Saturday, May 09, 2009

Mock Newbery 2010: Anything But Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin

Title: Anything But Typical
Author: Nora Raleigh Baskin
Publisher: Simon & Schuster
ISBN: 9781416963783
Starred review in: BL

In Anything but Typical, Jason Blake, like so many teens, finds his voice though creative writing and the support of an online writing community. The thing about Jason is that, outside of his online existence, it is exceedingly difficult for him to express himself as he is a teen with autism. Because he processes social interaction so differently from his peers, he faces rejection at school and a home life that, while loving, is fraught with misunderstanding. In his online haven, Storyboard, Jason feels better able to compose his thoughts and be himself. He eventually strikes up a friendship with a girl, Rebecca, who admires his writing. Both his enthusiasm over having a (girl)friend and his passion for creative writing are spoiled when he has the opportunity to attend a Storyboard convention in Rebecca’s hometown. Jason realizes he will have to interact with Rebecca face-to-face, which will bring his differences to the fore of their relationship. However, in the end, Jason manages to face his fears and grows more comfortable with himself and his place in the world.

To the majority of us, interpreting the facial expressions and intonations of others comes naturally. So naturally, in fact, that to break the process down, to even note that there is a process, is a foreign and difficult thing to do. Nevertheless, that is what Nora Raleigh Baskin needed to do in order to make this book function, and she does so through stellar character development. It was ambitious of Baskin to assume the voice of an autistic twelve year old, but she does it compassionately. Though Jason has difficulty communicating with others, within himself his is highly perceptive, and witty. Baskin makes sure these traits shine through in Jason’s internal thought processes and through excerpts from his stories. It is so easy to get caught up in looking at the world though Jason’s eyes, that before long, his differences become the new normal and one begins to wonder along with Jason, “Why are they acting that way?” Baskin masterfully illustrates how thin the line between “typical” and “atypical” really is. I do not recommend reading this offering in one sitting, as I did, because there is just too much to digest at once. Yet, I do highly recommend digesting it.

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