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Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Posted by Sherry on 10/12/2009 in 2009, Children's Fiction, Cybil Awards |

“When I write I can be heard. And known.
But nobody has to look at me. Nobody has to see me at all.”

Jason Blake is twelve years old. He writes stories on a website called Storyboard. Jason is NOT neurotypical. He is autistic.

This story, told from the point of view of an autistic boy who is also very gifted in the area of language and creative writing, makes me want to know more about how other people think, especially those who are not mainstream, not what we would call normal. Reading about someone who is autistic or mentally different in some other way always teaches me more about the thought processes and communication protocols that we who are neurotypical take for granted. As Jason’s mom says toward the end of the book, taking a trip with Jason teaches her (and me) more about ourselves.

And this story asks questions that I’m not prepared to answer completely, but that are important questions:

What is love exactly? Jason says, “Love is like yellow. Warm and safe.” If you can’t really express love to someone in a language that the beloved can understand, is it still love? Does love only become real when it’s understood and accepted? Or is it there all the time, working and making the loved one warm and safe, even if he can’t understand?

How much do computers assist in communication and how much and in what ways do they hinder true communication? Jason’s only means of communication is his computer where he writes stories and sends messages to the outside world. However, Jason not only uses his computer; he hides behind it. When an opportunity comes for him to meet a girl that he has only known via the internet, Jason is terrified. He knows that when people meet him in person, they find him difficult and somewhat repellant. Jason uses the computer to reveal himself to others, and he also uses his computer skills as a bridge to neurotypical world. However, the computer can also protect him from reality and from trying to live up to the expectations of others. Is this kind of protection a good thing or a bad one? Is the help and protection that Jason gets from his mom and his dad and his aide at school good or bad? Probably a bit of both, and it’s difficult for them to know how much to push Jason to act “normal” and how much to protect him from the cruelty in the world and how much to just allow him to be who he is.

“Why tell a story if there is no one there to read it? Why make a sound if no one will hear it?”
One answer to these questions is given by a character in the book: “Writing is all we have. . . . All we are, all we can be, are the stories we tell.”
There may be other answers. If you knew no one would ever read your blog, would you still write? If I were alone in the universe, or if my only audience were God, could I still live? Would I have any reason to live?

I don’t want to give away too much of the plot of this wonderful children’s novel, but I do want to assure you that Anything But Typical tells a story worth reading . . . and thinking about . . . and reading again . . . and even praying about perhaps. How can we love the unlovely in a way that they can experience? How can communication happen between people who speak completely different languages? How can we experience the love of other people and of God when each of has his own limitations and language barriers?

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