When I saw Anything but Typical on the library shelf, the title immediately rang a bell. I was pretty sure I’d seen it mentioned at Semicolon, and boy, was I right! Sherry has mentioned it again and again and again, in addition to the wonderfully glowing review she gave it. Since her recommendation of Marcelo in the Real World stood me in good stead (read my review here), I thought I’d give this book, which also has an autistic protagonist, a try.
Anything but Typical is the story of Jason, a twelve-year-old boy who is “anything but typical” in all the ways that count in his world: he doesn’t pick up on social cues, so most of his fellow middle schoolers have ample ammunition for making fun of him; he dresses in a way that brings comfort to him, which is decidedly unlike the rest of the pre-teen male population in his world; and he excels in language and writing, so his peers often use him for cheating to improve their grades, etc. The only place where Jason feels safe is in the online world of a message board dedicated to writing. It’s called Storyboard, and Jason posts his stories there for feedback and discussion. He loves to write–it’s how he works at comprehending his world. Through Storyboard Jason “meets” a girl who goes by the name of Phoenixbird. When his parents present him with the opportunity to attend a Storyboard convention, Jason has to decide whether or not he will meet Phoenixbird and perhaps shatter the illusion she has of him.
I’ve made this book sound simple and straightforward in this plot summary, but it is not. Jason’s voice in this story is very unique; at times, I even found the story a tiny bit confusing (i.e. is Jason thinking this, or is it real?), which I’m sure is just how the author intended for it to be read. Jason grapples with so many issues, and really, even though Jason is not “neurotypical,” his issues are issues many of us face. I found his relationship with his mother to be particularly compelling. He loves her, and she loves him, but there is a gulf between them created by her desires and expectations for him and who he really is. In the end, Jason has to decide whether or not he loves and accepts himself as he is. That’s something we all must do. This passage from the novel resonates with me:
I try to look at who I am.
But a mirror is not a true representation of a person. It is not. It is a reflection. It is the reverse, a pure opposite. They say if a person really saw their own face, they wouldn’t recognize themselves. Even a photograph is not a true representation. It is only two-dimensional, while human beings are three-dimensional.
We never really ever see ourselves the way other people see us.
I will just do the best I can. (188)
Isn’t that all any of us can do?
This book really made me think about how an author creates a character. Jason’s voice seems authentic to me, but how would I know? I’m not autistic, and I’m not close to anyone who is. I am currently reading An Na’s A Step from Heaven, the story of Korean immigrants’ experiences in the U.S., and although the books are obviously very different in subject matter, I couldn’t help but compare them. Both stories are about young people who are learning to navigate a world that is vastly different from their interior existences. While the girl in A Step from Heaven is unaccustomed to the American way of doing things simply because of her heritage, Jason’s situation is one of fundamental difference: he is different to the very core of his being. Both stories are providing plenty of food for thought.
Anything but Typical is an excellent story, and I would give it a Highly Recommended to anyone from about age ten and up.