Today, we begin with my very first #bookreview on this site. And what better place to start than a book that combines two of my greatest passions: romance novels and autism/neurodivergence.
Autism Goes to School is written by ‘expert’ Dr. Sharon Mitchell, mainly based upon her career as a teacher, counselor, and psychologist.
When talking about neurodivergence, I always put that word in quotations. I don’t believe that all the degrees in this world can make you an expert on something that you have no first-hand experience of. That would be like an entitled white person telling a black one about racism. Or mansplaining menopause to me (which trust me doctors do). The only experts on autism are the #ActuallyAutistic. Even then, autism is highly variable from person to person. So, the only expert on my autism is me.
Yes, both my youngest daughter and I are autistic. She is formally diagnosed by those ‘experts.’ Which was a battle in itself, and why I use those quotations. The truth is that there remains way too many myths, even or especially among the ‘experts.’ “Autism is a boy thing.” “She can look me in the eye; she can’t be autistic.” If I sound cynical, I am. I have been on this road for over a decade, which is why I have not and do not intend to waste time or money seeking my own diagnosis.
Having said all that, if there were an ‘expert’ that I trust, it would be Sharon. We have followed one another on Twitter for years; occasionally, even engaging in respectful debates or direct messaging. But somehow or the other, the fact that she also was a romance novelist escaped me. Until a few weeks ago, when I saw an advert for Autism Goes to School on her Twitter feed. I clicked it and downloaded the book. Over the next couple of days, I devoured it, fell in love, and my respect for Dr. Mitchell grew.
Autism Goes to School is a ‘sweet’ romance, meaning the sex scenes are only alluded to. Honestly, that is not generally my style. While I started off reading Grace Livingstone Hill and Barbara Cartland at twelve, I quickly outgrew them for their racier cousins by Joanna Lindsey and Bertrice Small. But this book captured me from the beginning.
It is the story of Ben, whose ex-girlfriend suddenly dumps their autistic five-year-old son, Kyle, on him. He has never been a parent. He knows nothing about autism, other than the brief and often inaccurate information on some ‘expert’ website. Now, he has to find his son a school. That is where their luck begins to change.
Madson Elementary is the school that every autistic child and family deserve. It is a place where acceptance and understanding simply happen. And Melanie Nicols is that teacher which Kyle and Ben can rely upon. She goes above and beyond the call of duty to help this father understand and accept his son. Along the way, they find love and happiness.
Now, let’s break down the elements of this story, which are strengths, weaknesses, and why:
1) Characters – Both Melanie and Ben as the main characters are well-developed and realistic. Their actions and reactions are in keeping with their backstories. The secondary characters, especially Kyle, are interesting and colorful. But they could use more development.
2) Pacing – This book is fast-paced, occurring over about a school year or nine-months, which means that there are huge gaps in time between scenes. Nonetheless, Sharon gives you enough information and context to follow along easily with the character and plot development.
3) Point of View – This story is told from multiple and alternating third person points of view, primarily Ben’s and Melanie’s. This is probably the best method to match the story. Unlike some books using this style, it is not difficult to recognize whose point view and when they switch.
4) Theme – This is what sets this book apart for me and makes it five-star worthy. Autism Goes to School is THE book that I would recommend first to any parent or loved one whose child may be or is autistic. Sharon compassionately and realistically portrays both the challenges and the positives of living an abundant, colorful life on the spectrum. With words such as:
“Autism is not a dirty word. It’s a different way of viewing the world. There are challenges involved in autism, for sure. But, there are also strengths.”
This book offers hope and encouragement as well as practical ideas for meeting those challenges. It does that without being some heavy how-to manual, but rather a light and thoroughly enjoyable read.
Of course, no book is perfect. Besides wanting more development of supporting characters like Ben and Melanie’s families and Madson’s principal, the other flaw with this book was editing. There were several minor and significant typos, grammar, and awkward sentences, such as:
He swung his hip over the top and tried perching on the too tall stool, without either foot hitting the ground, the hopped off.
But not even those, could dampen my enthusiasm for a romance novel that presented autism in such a compassionate and accepting light. I highly recommend Autism Goes to School as both a resource on neurodivergence and a light, sweet romance read. If you or anyone you know is facing the challenges of life on our beautiful rainbow spectrum of neurodiversity, this is THE book to begin your journey with.
Next week, we’ll explore another of life’s challenges with a Marine suffering from PTSD when I review another five-star book, Saving Jason, by Kate Anslinger. I know absolutely nothing about that. Ha-ha-ha.