Review: The Gone series by Michael Grant

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Michael Grant’s Gone series came to a conclusion earlier this year with the publication of the sixth novel Light. I was lucky enough to get to read it early, and devoured it in record time. I grew up on the Animorphs books, which Michael Grant contributed to/co-wrote, and the Gone series shares several elements I loved: ensemble cast, heavy focus on characters, epic scope, moral dilemmas, high-stakes action, and utter addictiveness. In short: I sort of love these books.

… but I also sort of don’t.

The biggest thing that stops me from loving this series is the portrayal of Little Pete, an autistic four-year-old boy. He’s the little brother of fourteen-year-old Astrid, who’s one of our main characters, and Pete becomes a significant character in his own right–in importance if not page time.

GONE at GoodreadsSpoilers will be clearly marked.

As an introduction, here’s how Pete and his autism are described in the first book, Gone:

“He’s autistic. Severely. He doesn’t–he doesn’t relate. He won’t answer [if I call to him], all right? I can yell his name all day.”

Little Pete was four years old, blond like his big sister, but freckled and almost girlish, he was so pretty. He didn’t look at all slow or stupid; in fact, if you didn’t know better, you’d have thought he was a normal, probably smart, kid.

“He talks,” Edilio said.

“He can,” Astrid said. “But he doesn’t much.”

“He talks. Great. What else does he do?” Quinn demanded pointedly.

“He seems able to do a lot of things. Mostly we’re good, the two of us. Mostly he doesn’t really notice me.”

“Petey is not intellectually impaired […] He has at least normal IQ, and may have a higher than normal IQ.”

In book three, Lies, he’s described as follows:

Little Pete was severely autistic. He lived in a world of his own imagining, unresponsive, only rarely speaking.

I’d like to discuss various aspects of Pete’s autism. For the sake of organization, I’ll break up this review into different sections. First, I’ll discuss the details of how Pete’s autism manifests; next, Pete’s role in the narrative, particularly in relation to his sister and the overall series plot; finally, the way Pete’s autism itself is perceived.

PETE’S AUTISM

I want to start this section with a big bold disclaimer: autism can present in many different ways. It’s not as simple as “Asperger” and “classical autism” and “PDD-NOS,” or “high-functioning” and “low-functioning,” or “severe” and “mild”—autistic people with high intelligence who seem social and easy-going may require lifelong live-in care; non-verbal autistic people may function independently and perform great in a regular college; and all the ranges in between.

Because of that, it’s difficult to point at something and definitively declare it Right or Wrong. Autism presents itself in seemingly unlikely ways for some people, and lord knows my own autism is very different from Little Pete’s. Still, there are a number of common symptoms, and there are many misinterpretations and misrepresentations in modern-day media, and that’s where I’m coming from.

And from that perspective, the portrayal of Pete’s autism never rang true to me. My biggest concern is Pete’s lack of responsiveness. Petey does occasionally react fiercely–I can think of at least two or three times he has a ‘freak-out’ in the series–but most of the time, he’s almost completely unresponsive and oblivious. This is even the case in extreme situations, which strikes me as nigh-impossible, given that one of the most common aspects of autism is a love of structure and familiarity. Unfamiliar environments and unexpected changes often result in stress which can manifest in different ways. Pete, however, doesn’t even acknowledge changes.

Take the following situations–all from Gone–as an example:

Little Pete rubbed sleep from his eyes and stared past them, indifferent to them, maybe not even aware that they existed. Maybe wondering why he was standing in the damp night air outside a nuclear power plant. Maybe not wondering anything.

Context for the following quote: Pete and his sister Astrid are in an unfamiliar hotel room, and someone is using a shotgun to blast through the door.

The door had a hole in it the size of a dime, with the metal puckered out.

Another explosion and the door handle was hanging half off.

Little Pete […] was still calm, still oblivious.

Context for the following quote: Pete is on a boat that just got hit full-on by a speedboat–their boat flipped into the water and back up, the metal twisted and torn, parts of the boat missing. There’s immense noise and panic. This is Pete’s reaction:

Little Pete was alone, staring, almost as if this at least had really penetrated his consciousness.

Pete is similarly unresponsive to touching, which many autistic people struggle with. His sister Astrid touches him in almost every scene they have together, with zero reactions: “he seemed barely to notice” (Gone); “of course he gave no response” (Hunger); “his indifferent body” (Hunger).

The way Pete tolerates Astrid’s touch isn’t necessarily improbable. In fact, some children with autism are extremely clingy with a select number of people. I would’ve accepted this as Pete simply being used to Astrid’s touch, if not for the way he fails to respond even when people who are practically strangers touch or even carry him.

This lack of responsiveness–indifference, blankness–may be realistic for some people with autism, but it’s extremely unusual. It struck me over and over again how rarely Pete actually interacted with the world around him. Most people with autism–even severe autism, even when non-verbal–do communicate in some way, and respond to stimuli, even if it’s not always in the “appropriate” way.

(For example, here’s a blog post about this from the perspective of a seemingly “unresponsive” autistic person.)

Getting caught up in particular interest, like Petey’s video game, definitely happens, but usually not to the extent that he’d be able to  experience the quoted situations without any response. Those situations would be completely overwhelming.

Similarly, in Gone, the following occurs:

[Astrid] had a particular way of talking to Little Pete when she wanted his attention. She held his face in her hands, carefully blocking his peripheral vision, half covering his ears. She put her face close to his and spoke calmly but with slow, careful enunciation.

I can see the logic of blocking sensory input, but most autistic people I know–including myself–would be scared shitless by this. Being held still on both sides, a face so close to your own, is nothing but sensory input.

Again: it might be fine for some people… but it’s likely to be an exception.

The books also fail to acknowledge other common aspects of autism: Pete seems to have no problem with eye contact, which is a frequent point of difficulty for autistic people. In addition, many autistic people struggle with particular flavors and textures of food, which can make meals an adventure the moment we stray from familiar brands or methods of preparation. In the Gone series, the characters quickly run out of food and often improvise their meals with whatever is at hand. Yet, no mention is made of Pete ever having a difficult time with this.

Petey does occasionally react in ways that are common to autistic people. He’ll rock back and forth, flap his hands, and repeat words he’s just heard others say–all of which is very common. I’ve done it! Over six books, though, he only acts in ways I recognized a small handful of times. While I don’t want writers to simply go down a checklist of symptoms when writing autistic characters–as I mentioned, symptoms vary widely–in combination with the other points I raised about Pete’s portrayal, his unusual behavior struck me as more of an oversight than a deliberate choice.

HOW THE NARRATIVE TREATS PETE AS A CHARACTER

You can look at Pete’s role in the books from multiple angles: how other characters interact with him, his role in the overarching plot, and how the narrative treats him. All of that coheres quite neatly into one conclusion, though: Pete is a prop.

This is particularly evident in the scenes from his sister Astrid’s perspective. Even though she’s “the person he’s closest to in the whole world” (Gone) she doesn’t seem to communicate well with him. She recognizes when he’s about to freak out, but not whether he’s hungry or whether he fears, enjoys, or understands something. Even if Pete expresses himself differently from other kids, a sister would learn at least some of those habits by virtue of seeing him grow up. Without that insight, Pete’s character feels flat, and his and Astrid’s sibling relationship feels like it’s written from an outside perspective.

The narrative emphasizes all of this by sympathizing strongly with Astrid, to the exclusion of Pete himself. Astrid is his sole caretaker due to the disappearance of their parents–and every adult in town–and it’s continually pointed out how hard it is for her to have a brother like him. Consider these quotes from GONE:

She put one protective arm around Little Pete, who had buried his face back in his game. Astrid blinked, looked down, took a deep shaky breath, and deliberately turned away.

Astrid rose and without really thinking about it wrapped her arms around Sam like she did when she was trying to comfort Little Pete.

But unlike Little Pete, Sam responded to her touch by awkwardly hugging her back.

[S]he had to keep Little Pete calm. That was her top priority, her brother. Her blank-faced, helpless, unloving brother.

She resented him. He had turned her into a mother at age fourteen. It wasn’t right. This should be her time to shine, to be bold. This was her time to use her intellect, that supposedly great gift. Instead, she was a babysitter.

She hated him for being what he was, for being so needy […]

Astrid dropped to the ground, shielding Little Pete again, still, always protecting Little Pete.

Quotes from Hunger:

She bent over to kiss him on his forehead. Of course he gave no response. He didn’t hug her or ask her to read him a story, or say, “Hey, thanks for taking care of me, sis.”

When he spoke, it was only about the things in his head. The world outside meant little or nothing to him. That included Astrid.

She lay down beside her brother and cuddled close to his indifferent body.

“Sorry,” she said to Little Pete, who was as indifferent to her apology as to everything else.

She stepped back, stepped away, not trusting herself to be near him. Hating him at that moment. Terrified that the enraged thing inside her head would lash out at him again. A voice inside her rationalized it even now. He is a brat. He does these things deliberately.

It was all his fault.

“Ahhh ahhh ahhh ahhh!”

“I do everything for you!” she cried.

“Ahhh ahhh ahhh ahhh!”

“I feed you and I clean you and I watch over you and I protect you. Stop it! Stop it! I can’t stand it anymore. I can’t stand it!”

She wondered if he even remembered her loss of control. She wondered if he knew how terrified she was, how hopeless and defeated. She knew he didn’t care.

No one cared.

Part of Astrid’s feelings are understandable–being a caregiver is hard, and Astrid had to deal with that on top of enduring extreme trauma. There’s a lot of resentment, obligation, and guilt when she thinks about Pete. Although it made me wince to read, it’s a believable reaction for someone–particularly a teenager–in her position.

What seems less realistic is the lack of affection. Pete is portrayed as a burden, never as a beloved brother. Astrid says she loves him, and shows concern, but never once does she sincerely smile looking at him or seem to feel even a hint of affection. On top of the seeming lack of understanding, that made the love feel hollow.

That’s why Pete feels like such a prop: he’s there purely to make Astrid sympathetic. Pete doesn’t get to be a character in his own right, with his own personality, likes, dislikes, or agency. He has no opinions on or reactions to anything that happens. He alternates between acting as a plot device and sitting around mysteriously playing his game. Even when Astrid is forced by the antagonist to call Pete a retard, the text lingers on how difficult it is for her to betray him without giving Pete any reaction of his own–“They were meaningless words. Just words. Little Pete didn’t care.” (Gone) and “He had forced her to insult Little Pete. To betray him. It hadn’t bothered Petey, of course.” (Fear)

This quote from Light emphasizes his lack of agency and personhood even more starkly:

Little Pete was not thought to have done it maliciously–Petey was incapable of malice. Or any intention, really.

Details in the narrative also seem to treat Pete very differently from the rest of the characters. His descriptions struck me as fey and Other: he’s described as “almost girlish, he was so pretty” and as his eyes are referred to as “too-pretty” and “those innocent eyes.” (Gone) Sometimes, it strongly feels like he’s being dehumanized–treated as an animal, an object, or even a computer to be programmed. Consider these quotes from Gone:

[Astrid] started to move away, but Little Pete began to whimper. It was the sound a puppy makes when it wants something.

Little Pete began to screech. It was a primitive sound. An earsplitting, insistent, repetitive, panicky baboon sound.

“I can’t kiss you with your little brother watching,” Sam said.

Astrid stepped back, took Little Pete by the shoulders, and turned him so he was facing away.

“How about now?”

Hunger:

It was time to get Little Pete ready for bed. [Astrid] stood up and called to him, using the trigger phrase he understood. “Beddy boody, beddy boody.”

Little Pete gave her a hazy look, as if he had heard her but had not understood. Then he got up from his chair and headed obediently up the stairs. Obedient not to Astrid’s authority, really, but to what was, in effect, programming.

Lies:

Little Pete howled like an animal. Howled like a mad thing, howled in a voice impossibly large.

“Ahhhhhhhh!” A cry of loss, a mad tragic cry.

He bent into a backward “C” and howled like an animal.

In the fourth book, Plague, Pete isn’t even a regular PoV character. Where the other characters get scenes in regular, numbered chapters, Pete’s scenes are treated more like interludes; they’re labeled with his name, in between numbered chapters. That really hit home how separately he’s treated from the rest of the cast.

These things would bother me on their own, and put together, they tick practically every box of the “dehumanization” checklist, which is unfortunate in a series that otherwise features such strong, vibrant characters.

Sadly, his role in the overall story arc isn’t much better. The next few paragraphs contain significant spoilers.

–START SPOILERS–

In the overall story arc, Pete is a similar prop. The trope of “Disability Superpower” is one with a long history, and even in a book where lots of people have superpowers, Pete is still the special one, with nigh unlimited power. Because this is such a familiar trope, and this review is long as is, I won’t go into this too deeply. Instead, I’ll link to other sites tackling the topic:

http://io9.com/5879242/why-do-we-want-autistic-kids-to-have-superpowers

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/DisabilitySuperpower

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Main/TheRainman

In addition, while I wouldn’t exactly call Pete “cured” after Plague on account of him, er, sort of dying, he’s still a conscious entity who’s suddenly no longer autistic. That falls into a different trope–the Disability Cure. Only without his autism does Pete end up saving the day, and even then it’s not because he’s grown over time, or realizes that what he did was bad, or wants to help his sister, or anything: it’s because “hitting is bad” and it made him upset.

While that’s not necessarily an unlikely motivation for a five-year-old, it doesn’t help the already simplistic portrayal of his character. In the end, Pete saving the day only reduces him to more of a plot device. I can’t see his role in the books as anything but a way of putting the cast in a far-fetched situation and promptly solving it once the series ran its course. Afterward, he doesn’t even get to have a happy ending: he dies for good.

–END SPOILERS–

However, as displeased as I was about both the depiction of Petey’s autism and his role in the books, it wasn’t until we got scenes from Petey’s own perspective that the books became genuinely upsetting for me to read.

PERCEPTIONS OF PETE’S AUTISM

When the reader first encounters Pete’s point of view and thus gets an inside perspective of his autism, I was a little unsure. To me, the sequences came across more like what a non-autistic person would imagine autism to be like, rather than how someone with autism would experience it themselves.

An example from Lies:

Little Pete woke up.

Dark. Dark was good. Light filled his brain with too much.

It was quiet. Good. Sounds made his head hurt.

He had to be quiet himself or someone would come and bring light and noise and touching and pain and panic and it would all come at him like a tidal wave a million feet high, spinning him, crushing him, smothering him.

Then he would have to shut down. He would have to turn it all off. Hide from it. Go back to the game, back to the game, because inside the game, it was dark and quiet.

From Plague:

Down there were his mom and his dad and his sister. Down there were jagged edges and harsh noises that made him want to clap his hands over his ears. When he looked at those things, those people, the wobbly, insubstantial houses, the sharp-edged furniture, the claw hands and hooked noses and staring, staring, staring eyes and yelling mouths, he wanted to close his eyes.

But it didn’t work. Even through his closed eyes he saw them. And he heard them. But he did not understand their wild, pulsating colors. Sometimes their words weren’t words at all but brilliant parrot-colored spears shooting from their mouths.

Mother father sister teacher other. Lately only sister and others. Saying things. Some words he got. Pete. Petey. Little Pete. He knew those words. And sometimes there were soft words, soft like kittens or pillows and they would float from his sister and he would feel peace for a while until the next jangling, shrieking noise, the next assault of stabbing color.

On the other side—the agitated, jangly, hard side—his sister, her face a stretched mask beneath yellow hair, a mouth of pink and glittery white, loud, was pushing at him with hands like hammers.

After a long and peaceful escape he had been recaptured by the too-much world of furious activity and disjointed images.

From Light:

Life had always been strange and disturbing for Peter Ellison. From the moment of his birth the world had attacked him with noise and light and scraping touch. All the sensations that were easy for other people to make sense of were terrifying and overwhelming for him. Other people could filter things out. Other people could turn down the noise, but Pete could not.

Since experiences of autism can differ so much person-to-person, the above descriptions may ring true to some people. For me, though, they veered on simplistic. They take one aspect of autism–sensory overload–and extrapolate from there what autism must feel like, taking it into an almost cartoonish realm.

Much worse, though, is exactly how Pete’s experiences with autism are described.

The narrative talks of “the tortured, twisted, stunted brain that had made the world so painful to him” (Plague); “his distorting, terrifying brain” (Plague); “his strange, distorted brain” (Fear); “a twisted, distorted brain” (Fear); “miswired brain” (Fear); “his jangled life” (Fear); “the severe autism that had crippled him” (Light); “a life that had been short but painful” (Light); “his brain had been his enemy all his life” (Light); “a strange little boy whose own brain made him a prisoner, whose own mind made life painful and terrifying. Unbearable.” (Light)

At one point in Fear, Pete even wonders, Had he ever laughed before?

And this, to me, is where Pete’s portrayal went from “doesn’t feel truthful, contributes to misconceptions of autism” to “outright damaging.”

His autism is portrayed over and over again as being non-stop pain and suffering. That got incredibly hard to read: do people really think this is what autism is like? Even if the author’s intention is to show understanding and sympathy, portraying our experiences this black-and-white is hurtful and borders on demeaning. Our autism might make things harder, and people might struggle to understand us, but that doesn’t instantly translate to suffering. To the outside observer, things like rocking back and forth, flapping hands, being blank-faced, compulsively arranging objects, screaming, etc. may look like being trapped, but they probably look completely different from the autistic person’s perspective. Any of the above can translate to fear, tension, relaxation, happiness, excitement, or a dozen other things.

When I quoted the above excerpts to a fellow autistic friend, she commented about how it was akin to the kind of speech used by Autism Speaks, a supposed charity that’s notoriously unfriendly to autistic people. There, it’s fear-mongering; here, however well-intentioned, it’s still misrepresenting and damaging. This depiction of Little Pete skims the surface, and invites pity and horror from the audience. That’s not what autistic people need, even those who do suffer from their autism.

Presenting the experiences of autistic people as a non-stop nightmare risks putting the blame on the autism itself. It implies that autism equals suffering, and there’s no fixing it. It absolves people of the responsibility to look further and adapt.

And that’s dangerous.

I’ve often recommended the Gone series: in addition to the gripping story and characters, the series strives to be inclusive, with positive portrayals of queer people, people of color, and fat people. Unfortunately, I think it failed when it came to Pete. Although I recognized a handful of details of Pete’s autism, for the most part, his behavior felt either unlikely or flat-out wrong. In addition, he seemed to be treated less as a fleshed out character in his own right and more as a prop, often by indulging in damaging tropes.

Pete’s portrayal has both angered and hurt me, but in the end, seeing these sorts of things pop up in books I could almost love if not for…?

It just saddens me.

I hope this review helps people understand why, and perhaps recognize and avoid these tropes in their own work.



About Author

Corinne Duyvis

A lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing sci-fi and fantasy. Otherbound, her YA fantasy debut, received four starred reviews; Kirkus Reviews called it “original and compelling; a stunning debut,” while BCCB praised its “subtle, nuanced examinations of power dynamics and privilege.” On the Edge of Gone, her second YA, is about an autistic girl during the apocalypse and received three starred reviews. SLJ said: “Insightful, suspenseful, and unsettling in its plausibility.” Her most recent novel is Guardians of the Galaxy: Collect Them All, an original novel set in the Marvel Universe.

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29 Comments

  1. Even before I was at all interested in disabled rights and such, Little Pete’s portrayal made me really uncomfortable, and I’m not even autistic.

  2. Great review. I don’t know anyone who’s autistic, so this made me see the series with other eyes. I’m glad you both noticed the mistakes but still realizes there are good things about the books! Do you think Mr. Grant would like to see this?

  3. I think you mentioned this book to me, but I had no idea it was this bad. I couldn’t even read all of the quotes, they were too horrible. Most of them seemed like just endless repetition of “Look, Little Pete doesn’t react! At all! What a weirdo. Is he even human? Probably not.”

  4. As a mom of an autistic 3 year old, I found these quotations painful to read. I also agree with a lot what you said. My daughter, at this point, is fairly low functioning but she is certainly “reactive” to her environment! If anything, loud noises and changes in routine elicit a strong reaction from her (covering her ears, clinging, crying, etc.)

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  7. Hi, I’m Michael Grant. (I mention that because I’m not sure if I can sign in that way, but I guess we’ll see.)

    I only now saw this review – I obsess over reviews only until the next book comes out, so I didn’t happen to ego-Google this, I was pointed to it by someone on Twitter.

    Let me start with why I used an autistic character. My wife was taking our yellow Lab (Goofy, R.I.P.) to hang with autistic kids at a local school. Goofy ‘read’ with them, which is an improvement over Goofy’s usual pastime of eating anything and everything, including, no exaggeration, an oak dining table.

    I will freely admit that I did very little research into autism. I talked to my wife, read Temple Grandin’s book, listened to her on NPR — I knew enough to avoid the super-smart-Rain Man trope, and that was about it.

    I am a ‘pantser,’ meaning that I improvise rather than plan. So at the start I had no idea what I was going to end up doing with Petey. I sensed he was important, but did not yet know how. And I certainly had no clue about the next five books. If I hurt people’s feelings – and it looks like I did – it was entirely unintentional, and it goes without saying that I regret that.

    But on some specific points:

    1) Astrid is meant to be unlikable. Her attitude toward Petey is part of showing that. That wasn’t me saying, ‘this is how you treat autistic kids,’ it was me saying, ‘she’s kind of a bitch, isn’t she?’ The idea (vague at best) that I started with was that Astrid would be a chilly, judgmental person who would slowly migrate to a more sympathetic person.

    2) Even from the start, Petey is not just ‘an autistic kid,’ he’s an autistic kid with the equivalent of Satan whispering in his ear. He is in close contact with a powerful and malevolent creature. His mind is compromised by that contact. His actions influenced by it.

    3) Petey is a hero. Petey saw danger and reacted in panic, but saved the lives of everyone within range of the nuclear plant. In the end SPOILER he gives his life to save them all. Despite all the terrible pressure on him, despite the fact that the gaiaphage has taken him to hell and back, Petey does the right thing at the necessary moment.

    4) I never write single note characters if I can avoid it. My characters are never saints, never meant to be seen as perfect exemplars of behavior. They are all sinners (to steal some religious terminology). Some are sinners trying to find a way to redemption, some aren’t. Some succeed, some don’t. Astrid is a judgmental person who grows toward greater tolerance and self-awareness in part because of her very fraught relationship with Petey (to put it mildly, she does after all, SPOILER think she’s killed him at one point.)

    I hope it’s obvious that I never intended anything negative about autistic people. Without getting too revealing I have people very close to me who are on the spectrum. (Also tons of pretty serious OCD, depression, a family history of alcoholism, gosh yes, we are a fun crowd here at the Grant Ranch.) In the course of what turned out to be 3000 pages, I had characters with depression, bulimia and alcoholism. (Also, just plain evilness.) I had characters who were Anglo, Hispanic, African-American, Asian and south-east Asian. I had gay and straight, rich and poor, religious and not. I try very hard to present both characters and classes of people as fairly and objectively as I know how. I’m not excusing, but part of employing diverse characters is the risk of getting something wrong. And at a practical level, I can only get so deep into research.

    That said, it is clear I offended some people. I’m genuinely sorry about that. Not a crime of malice, but one of ignorance.

    Michael Grant

    • You may not have intended to but you did hurt people. How do you intend to change in the future? You’re a “pantser” but it’s clear your lack of research is harmful so are you working to change that? Have you done any research into Autism now that it’s been brought to light that your depiction was harmful? You can defend yourself all you want but you still did harm and have not stated how you intend to make up for that harm other than your one line apology in this defense of yourself.

    • Andrew Patterson on

      I find it infinitely fascinating that you chose to respond to this 3 YEAR OLD review. Today. After the last several days where you repeatedly, and aggressively, tried to portray yourself as some scion of perfection in your support of diversity. I have also watched, and commented, on several points encouraging you to stop this rampage. And now, I see this. On the surface, it is a very honest explanation of how you crafted Petey into a character. Even your apology seems genuine enough. However, I also view a person’s merit as a sequence of events and decisions. This is not enough to make up for how you have acted. And yes, I have read EVERY comment. Your responses were defensive, defiant, and dismissive of criticisms towards your work. So you can understand why I am skeptical of your current apology. And it would have been a genuine apology if you had addressed it three years ago when it was first submitted. Unfortunately, despite your supposed obsession with “reviews until the next book comes out” mentality, you failed to notice this very long, and well crafted, deconstruction of your work. What is also interesting is that your replies on SLJ and on twitter suggest that this is an attempt to repair your damaged reputation. A reputation, I might add, that you damaged through your actions.

      If this is a genuine apology and an indication of reformed behavior, then you still need to apologize to all the other people you have been yelling at. I doubt you’ll respond to this as you only seem to respond to women who call you out now.

      I feel I shouldn’t have to mention this. It should be something you have already learned from your parents but if you want people to respect and trust you, then you need to do the following:
      1) Listen. Not just hear. Listen. Reflect. Try to understand why they are feeling this way.
      2) Be respectful to other people
      3) Don’t try to be the hero. Support diversity but don’t assume you know all the answers because you don’t.
      4) If someone is upset by something you have written, apologize. You don’t have to agree with them, but you do need to show them that their opinion is respected (see previous points).
      5) Stop trying to play the victim. Really, it just pisses people off. You are the aggressor here, not them.

      So seriously. Just stop pretending and be a genuine, humble, human being. Promote diversity through your actions, not just your words. Your support of diversity at this point seems more like a “I want people to know how nice and supportive of me so I can feel good” instead of being an actual ally.

      • Mr. Grant explained the reasoning behind his writing, admitted fault, then apologized. He can’t retroactively go back and rewrite that character. He can’t go back in time, find this review 3 years ago, and then write a reply. All he can do is offer his point of view now and apologize.

        The critique by Corinne was written well. It was thoughtful and engaging. It was constructive. I don’t think this is the space to start making personal attacks on this man.

    • I’m not sure how you could have read this thoughtful, nuanced review of the Gone series and in particular Pete’s autisim and thought that this was an appropriate response.

      When I teach my students about apologizing we work on aplogizing for the hurt they’ve caused, whether they intended it or not, without any excuses. I also teach them that a proper apology includes the steps that they are going to take to avoid hurting people in similar ways in the future.

      It’s clear from your response here, and your actions on twitter in the past few days, that you’re more interested in mitigating the damage that’s been done to your reputation/stop people from calling you out than you are in actually understanding how you’ve been hurtful and offensive and how to move forward from there.

      Thanks, as always, go to Corinne and Disability in Kids Lit for the fantastic work that they’re doing in making kids lit and ya a more inclusive and welcoming space.

    • I need to read no further than “I will freely admit that I did very little research into autism.” THAT is the problem. If you intend to write a character who is part of a group or culture you are not a part of, it is not only professionally appropriate to do extensive research (and get sensitivity readers if it is a marginalized group), but it shows you care enough to write it correctly.

      Your flippant attitude is more concerning and offensive than what you have written.

      I am also appalled that your agent and publisher did not step in and insist you research autism before publishing this series.

    • (Update, 20 November: If you read this comment when I initially posted it yesterday, I have significantly revised it since.)

      Hi Michael. I’m the author of the review and one of the editors of this site (although I’m speaking only for myself here). I debated about whether to respond; ideally, I would like the review to stand on its own, and not require further detail or defense.

      Instead, I wrote a bizarrely long response. It goes on forever, but I hope you’ll stick with it. (You can take bathroom breaks.)

      I appreciate your comment, and the fact that you read this review and gave it some thought. At the same time, I think there’s an important element your comment was missing, which is the understanding that the author’s intent only goes so far.

      It sucks, of course, to see reviews like this when you have nothing but good intentions, and have spent your career actively including diverse characters. As an author, I understand that, and the urge to explain and defend.

      But your intentions aren’t the root of my problem; I never once thought that you purposefully – let alone maliciously – wrote a character who falls into these tropes. In the end, though, the book stands on its own. Authors can’t pop out of the pages during certain scenes to provide their readers with additional explanations for their decisions, or to ensure readers interpret character choices the correct way.

      And because of that, there are some important things to keep in mind.

      1. People always absorb ideas and stereotypes via the media we consume. Popular media as well as news media – and our society in general – are heavily biased against marginalized groups. You say you’ve been active in politics – you know this. Many ideas we internalize are flat-out wrong. Worse, those ideas are likely to prop up the institutional marginalization and oppression these groups face.

      Even if we don’t consciously hold negative opinions, any stories we write function in that wider framework. The fact authors have internalized these ideas may be why certain character elements just “feel right,” or why authors gravitate toward certain story choices – our first instincts are off. They’re operating on flawed information.

      So you’re right: part of writing diverse characters is the risk of getting something wrong. I don’t feel the solution is to then take a “damned if you do, damned if you don’t” approach, though. I think the better solution is to educate ourselves so that we can actively avoid playing into tropes and stereotypes.

      It’s not about authors and how hard we tried, or how good our intentions are. It’s not about whether we feel our conscience is clean, or whether we can find ways to justify or explain our choices.

      It’s about the end result. It’s about the harm our choices may cause, even if we hate to think of it.

      2. We can’t help internalizing skewed information. We can’t write in a vacuum. That makes it all the more important for authors to think consciously and intentionally about the characters we write, particularly with regards to marginalized characters.

      So instead of thoughtlessly absorbing and accepting the skewed narratives we’re badgered with every day, we should consciously analyze our influences. We have to do our research, both in terms of cold hard facts and in terms of the more fluid, complex context in our society and fiction.

      We have to be aware of the framework before we can step outside of it.

      If we’re aware of tropes and stereotypes, we can purposefully counter them in our writing. Or we can deconstruct them, or play with them, or lean into them. Whatever we choose to do with this knowledge, it’s at least because of a conscious choice, instead of a subconscious influence.

      This is part of the craft. We also avoid tired clichés in our sentences, outdated stereotypes in our characters, predictable storylines; we’re aware those have been done a thousand times before. We understand that history, that context. We know we don’t write in a vacuum. Because of that knowledge, we can choose to discard the first, obvious thought that comes to mind and search for something that serves our goals better.

      3. In the end, the book stands on its own. It doesn’t matter what the author’s reasons or intentions are.

      As an example: Astrid’s behavior toward Petey may have been more reflective of her than anything else. But it still plays into a common and damaging trope, which is the idea that autistic children are hard to love and are a burden on their families. In this narrative, the caretakers – family, teachers, doctors – are the protagonists. They are who people sympathize and identify with, while the autistic children themselves are secondary.

      If the end result – on the page and within the reader’s head – falls into that trope, does it matter that the author had other reasons for it?

      Ideas like the above are the kind of beliefs that lead to autistic children and adults being murdered by their caretakers, and those murderers walking free because the rest of the world sympathizes with their plight. That sounds harsh. It’s obviously not what you believe in, nor what you wanted to say with the book. I am in no way implying or accusing you of that.

      But that’s the reality that autistic people live with, and why someone like me may react strongly to seeing it play out in fiction. We know that readers recognize and readily accept narratives like beleaguered-relative-and-burdensome-autistic-child. After all, they slot perfectly into the autism narratives that already exist.

      Regardless of your intentions, regardless of the larger point you wanted to make, that’s the takeaway many readers will have. This isn’t hypothetical: Just the other day, one of your readers vehemently argued that reading Gone made them realize how difficult it is to care for an autistic kid – a perception that centers Astrid’s feelings and experiences, and highlights the negative elements of caring for an autistic kid.

      Maybe – and this part is hypothetical – maybe next time they watch the news and hear about an autistic kid being murdered by their burned-out parent, they’ll think, “That’s so awful! But, gosh, I remember that character in Gone, and if I were in that situation – well, it’s understandable in a way, isn’t it? The kid might be better off.”

      Again: It sounds harsh. Over the top, even. Unfair. But those reactions are frighteningly common, and stories do influence the beliefs underlying those reactions.

      Those are the results our decisions may have.

      That is the responsibility we have as authors.

      Ignorance is a reason, but it’s not an excuse. If you intend to continue writing diverse characters – and I hope that you do – I hope you understand why it’s important for authors to do our research, and to find readers from the groups we’re portraying. Even if it’s not practical. Even if it’s time-consuming and complicated. Otherwise, we risk playing right into the existing, flawed narratives, even if we don’t mean to.

      There is almost always a way to keep a story and its characters intact but avoid these tropes – but if authors don’t know the big messy context and background, they can’t reach that alternative. They will simply go with their first instinct without understanding the implications.

      You say you’re sorry for offending readers, but there are two things to consider:

      The first is that I wasn’t offended. As I said in the review, I was saddened. I was hurt. I was disappointed and betrayed. A series by one of my favorite childhood authors – Animorphs was a huge influence to me as a writer – doubled down on the frightening ideas society has about people like me. Used language that made me need to the book down several times to collect myself, to swallow past this huge chunk of hurt and be able to move on with the actual story.

      It’s easy to dismiss offense. It’s not as easy to acknowledge hurt, especially if you’re unintentionally responsible for it.

      The second is that you say: “I hope it’s obvious that I never intended anything negative about autistic people. … It is clear I offended some people. I’m genuinely sorry about that.”

      I appreciate that statement and apology – I do. Thank you. But the point here, as I explained above, isn’t about your intentions. It’s about your actions. If you want to apologize, don’t apologize for having offended people; apologize for the actions that caused the offense.

      As an example, I would have responded to your comment very differently (and probably a lot more succinctly) had the apology been along these lines: “I apologize for not doing my research, and for not being aware of the context around portrayals of autism. I apologize for hurting a number of my readers, and for unknowingly perpetuating harmful ideas about autism. I apologize for focusing more on defending myself, my choices, and my intentions than on understanding the core issue, which was not about me. I understand now the issue was about the words that ended up on the page, and the effects those words had. I understand now why authors, if they are sincere about wanting to represent diverse characters, have a responsibility to be aware of the history and context around the portrayals of those characters. I understand that ignorance does not absolve them of that responsibility. I will strive to do better in the future.”

      I’m not saying that to dictate what you have to do – not at all. I’m not demanding an apology or pressuring you into saying the above. If you choose not to respond at all to avoid an awkward conundrum, I won’t hold it against you.

      Instead, I’m giving a sample apology because I sense a level of frustration in your comments here and elsewhere, and I feel like part of that frustration may be because people keep pressing the point after you’ve already explained and apologized. The reason they keep pressing it may be because they don’t feel like those explanations and apologies address the root of the issue. I thought giving an example of something that would address them could help illustrate why your comments may not be sufficient.

      Well, that turned into a novel all on its own. Thank you for reading. I hope it helped you understand where I and others are coming from.

    • Hi Michael Grant, your motive for commenting on this post at this time may be suspect, but I, for one, appreciate your willingness to publicly engage on the topic of disability representation in youth literature. I can think of a quite a few authors I’d like to address directly; but I’m not sure they’d be willing. So here we are.

      The well-known quote from Palaccio’s WONDER (not a favorite of mine)–“When given the choice between being right or being kind, choose kind”—misses the point. As a Deaf woman, I am not asking for kindness and I don’t need to be right. However, I do very much want authors to get it right.

      How do we do that? Duyvis offers many fine suggestions. She and other writers have contributed valuable reviews and think pieces (ex. “Narrative Devices and the Autism Voice”) to this website. Now that you’re here, I hope you’ll look around.

      All disabled groups face stereotypes and oppression. The cruelest and most harmful of all prejudices about the disabled is that we are impossible burdens on our loved ones and society. This belief is overriding—almost impossible to combat within and without ourselves–and it hurts deeply. As Corinne noted, the dark underside is that family members who kill disabled children are seen as not killers but victims, and the true victims are forgotten. Autistic folks are presented with a particularly ugly prejudice: that they are incapable of loving and being loved. This would make them less than human.

      You have a wide, loyal readership. It would be wonderful if you could subvert these dangerous messages. And, at the same time, support #ownvoices—a phrase that Corinne Duyvis coined and a reality that must move to center stage in children’s publishing.

  8. To those upset about this apology (vague spoilers included):

    1) Just because he distinguishes the difference between ignorance and malice doesn’t mean he thinks this was okay. He apologizes for the harm done. The reason he details how Petey came to be and stresses that he had no ill will is because people are actually accusing him of doing this on purpose. He’s not excusing himself, he’s trying to clear the air and apologize for what he feels he did wrong. He’s sorry his ignorance hurt people and made a kid feel like he was a burden (and, no, nowhere on Twitter did he say any child DESERVES TO FEEL like a burden, merely that all children put burden on their parents, which is an OPINION and not an assertion). He’s NOT sorry for purposely slandering autistic people, because that’s NOT what he did.

    2) He isn’t dismissing or disrespecting the article or Ms. Corinne. He’s bringing to light a few points that the article skipped over. Those missing points make the article misleading to anyone who hasn’t read the series. As someone who HAS read the entire series (unlike the offended child), I had the same thoughts while reading this article. Some of the quotes (i.e., the one about Sam not wanting to kiss Petey in front of Astrid) had NOTHING to do with Petey’s autism (this specific quote had more to do with his age) in context. Furthermore, there’s an actual motif in the third book of the series about the characters chalking his distance/unresponsiveness up to autism and then learning it’s actually NOT his autism, but the “equivalent of Satan” Grant mentions. This was the plot of two entire books and was given a symbolic object. Petey’s video game (the satanic figure uses it as one method of communication with Petey). The author of this article makes the same mistake the characters did: she attributes ALL of Petey’s character to his autism and conveniently dismisses everything else that makes him Petey (his moral code, his conflict with the devil-figure, his age, etc.).
    Furthermore, quasi-death wasn’t used as a “cure”. See the numerous disasters Petey caused post-Plague. The quasi-death WAS used, however, to cure an actual sickness Petey contracted at the beginning of Plague.
    Then there’s Astrid. Who in the world looked at the way she treated Petey and found it sympathetic?! Petey isn’t being used as a prop to make the audience pity her struggle – her mistreatment of him is actually a big part of her bitchiness and the reason most readers HATE her. They like the series villains more than Astrid. Right from the start, she’s depicted as brazenly overestimating her knowledge and hurting people because of it. Over and over. Petey is the first example we see. He was NOT used as a pity card, and NOT there purely for the sake of his sister.
    The author of this article looked at a lot of Petey’s actions that didn’t match autism and instead of realizing, “Oh, maybe there’s more to his character than a single disability”, she used it against Grant. There is NO SHAME in him bringing the excluded things up, especially since he doesn’t say “Therefore all of your points are moot.” He’s merely sharing another perspective with her, as she did him.
    Also, insisting that a character’s death is oppression is ridiculous, especially when we’re discussing a series where death is so common. Plenty of able-bodied, heterosexual white people died, too. Petey’s ACTUAL death wasn’t used as a pity card, either. There was no “Aw poor autistic kid who had to die”. He even died alongside another martyr who WASN’T disabled. They got the same treatment.
    Furthermore, Grant doesn’t try and fight the points that hit the nail on the head, such as the harmful superpowered stereotype and the autism=suffering issue. Nowhere in his apology does he denounce that. Because the article is right. Those are harmful. That’s where his ignorance caused a huge problem.
    Most importantly, he acknowledges that the author’s opinions are still valid. He doesn’t say they’re not. Because if one autistic person missed all of these details and saw only what’s included in this article, so might another, and as a result a lot of autistic people will feel hurt. He doesn’t call this article “wrong” or “incorrect” or “useless” or “invalid”. Stop pretending he waved it off like it was nothing. Pointing out some things the author missed (MUCH like this article does to him) IS NOT DISMISSAL. It’s attention and thoughtful response. A lot of the left found that screaming “-ist!” and “-ism!” without forethought takes less effort than actual discussion; by contrast, this article and Grant’s response are examples of what ACTUAL, HELPFUL discussion looks like.

    3) People wanted him to respond to this. They brought it to his attention. And so he responded. I’m also gonna assert that, yes, if a writer’s work is being misrepresented (NOTE: all the the things above that Ms. Corinne excluded), they should be able to speak up about it. Otherwise, false accusations can go flying. Such as, in this case, the accusation that Grant did all of this on purpose. He’s not just covering his ass or trying to make himself feel good. People used misleading information as “proof” that he’s a terrible person and expected him to just shut up about it. Newsflash: people are allowed to think for and defend themselves, and that doesn’t automatically make them jerks, over-offended, or mean.

    4) Before anyone accuses him of trying to be perfect, please read his work. Or maybe his apology. He doesn’t portray anyone – even himself – as perfect. Even I’ll admit he gets a big ego sometimes, but I find it hard to believe that he thinks any higher of himself than such a successful author should. In fact, his self-insert character in GONE – Quinn Gaither – is deliberately described as “a fuck-up redeemed by hard work.” A person doesn’t have to be perfect to defend themselves. The fact that so many people have conflated the two makes me wonder if you’re the ones that feel you must be SPOTLESS in order to speak your mind. Helpful tip: you don’t.

    Lastly, 5), nowhere does he say he intends to keep being ignorant and continue to let it harm people. He also doesn’t say he’s gonna do MORE research, either (although, as someone who’s READ HIS BOOKS, I can confirm that even before this article came to light, he began doing more research for his works). Make of it what you will, but know that the absence of one doesn’t mean the presence of the other. Again… that’s needless conflation that only serves to piss people off and doesn’t contribute to any actual solution.

    Before you start screaming that I’M biased, yeah, you’re probably right. I’ve enjoyed his work for years. I’ve enjoyed the diversity in his books for years. And I’ve also felt uncomfortable reading Petey for years. As noted, there ARE some things Grant got wrong, and he HAS hurt people. But he hasn’t dismissed, disrespected, insulted, mistreated, or ignored any legitimate claims against him. At least, not here, and not that I know of. If you have a grievance, I’d like to point at the lovely Corinne Duyvis as an example of what to do – she approached this carefully, respectfully, and kindly. She didn’t slander anyone’s name. Most importantly, she made her own contribution to literature. Way to use your voice! I’d really hate to see this lovely medium polluted by the notion that you can just half-ass your research (as… lots of people in the comments here clearly did, reading only one article and a few tweets rather than the actual books) and then act like you have superior knowledge and insight. When I read Grant’s apology, it seems to me that he agrees.

    • She may have intentionally not addressed certain things he brought up because there wasn’t enough evidence to prove his intent. For example, what was his train of thought that lead him to choose this particular character as the one with the Satan equivalent talking in his head? She might have had suspicions what that thought process was, and chose to give him the benefit of the doubt. To be more specific, considering his other descriptions of Petey, Corinne might have believed Michael chose him because he believed the character had less will/thoughts of his own to overcome.

      You are correct that he can’t retroactively change what he wrote. I think your observation about Corinne making a contribution to literature is nice, but also illustrates another problem. Whether they admit it or not, many agents and publishers have a quota/checklist. Michael admits to doing very little research, and had reinforced some really negative things. In the process, he may also have stolen a chance by another author to publish a book that did neither of these things. There may have been someone like Corinne who got passed on because the spot on the quota had been filled by Mr. Grant.

      • Ah, that’s a good point – to clarify that specific example, I think Ms. Corinne and I both chalked up the purpose of their connection to an extension of the superpowered-disability trope. A character with good morals and strong powers is a threat to the villain, and that’s why he was constantly conversing and warring with it. It targeted him to make sure he wouldn’t get in the way of its plans – which, he did.

        For the other things Ms. Corinne excluded/interpreted differently, we have to weigh Grant’s intent against the results. Most people don’t find Astrid sympathetic at all – to call up one of Grant’s specific points, the fact that she attempted to murder Petey told most readers that she wasn’t looking out for his best interests and likely wasn’t as educated as she believed herself to be (this is a very common thing for her character, but detailing that means detailing the plot of three books). The point is that people who read this article but not the series don’t get that context and only assume the worst. When she wrote this article, sure, there was no way to know which way Grant intended it to go… but since we all seem to agree that effect matters more than intent (i.e. why his ignorance is a crime and not an excuse), when explaining all of this to people who haven’t read the series, the more prevalent/common interpretation should have been included as well (not necessarily by Ms. Corinne, because most people only familiarize themselves with one or two interpretations and not all; this is why the comment system exists, and why Grant and I both brought it up).

        As far as agents and publishers with a checklist you’re right – there’s… not much to be said about what’s already been done. The concept is called “opportunity cost”; the cost for anything you choose is everything else you didn’t. I’d like to point out that while this particular choice did very bad things for some people on the spectrum, it did do LOADS good for LGBTQ, mental illness, religious, and racial diversity images in media (explaining all of those would take at least an essay each, every one just as long or longer than the article here). Ms. Corinne mentions this, too. Does it excuse the wrong done? Absolutely not. But when you talk about a book filling a quota, you’ve got to consider ALL of what the book did, not just one specific issue. Mr. Grant filled spots that may have been filled with books much, much worse just as easily as one like Ms. Corinne’s. To fix this issue, one needs to look at changing the market’s priorities and standards rather than attacking one series that’s already made it through and done loads of good for other communities. Finding a series that perfectly balances representation for ALL, has good writing, can easily be marketed, fits a certain consumer demographic… that’s hard. For both the publishers who have to choose and the activists who want only the best put out there. Here, the publishers sacrificed one demographic for the others and everything else. And it sucks that they did that. Yeah, it should be called out. But maybe not used as the spearpoint of the revolution. It’s sad that this series is one of the most progressive out there, but that’s what it is. It wasn’t a waste of a quota.

        I’m glad that this stuff got pointed out, but ultimately it… isn’t reason enough to slander Grant’s name and threaten to ruin his business (NOT something Ms. Corrine did, notice – but her article is still being passed around as some sort of evidence that he’s a “racist, ableist fucker whose words make the world less safe”) (yes, that’s an actual quote). The flaws have been addressed. He’s read the article. He’s looked at himself and found out where his ignorance was and how badly a lack of research hurt people. What’s done is done, from the publishing of the series through this enlightenment. Ultimately I just… don’t see why people are still up in arms about it.

        Thank you for the reply! I’m happy that there’s still some good debate going on, so that the important things Ms. Corinne brought to light don’t get drowned out by the people who went nuts and went waaaay overboard with baseless accusations. Those people shouldn’t speak for all activists.

        • Ezzie, I don’t think that that harsh critique (on twitter etc) is coming from this review. It’s coming from Grant’s sustained abominable behaviour on that SLJ thread.

    • I don’t typically respond to comments, but since this review is currently getting a lot of attention, I wanted to respond to the idea that I’m misrepresenting the situation.

      You said:

      ________________
      … a few points that the article skipped over. Those missing points make the article misleading to anyone who hasn’t read the series. For example:
      Some of the quotes (i.e., the one about Sam not wanting to kiss Petey in front of Astrid) had NOTHING to do with Petey’s autism (this specific quote had more to do with his age) in context.
      _________________

      (a) My problem was not with Sam not wanting to kiss with Petey watching. My problem was with Astrid turning Petey around the way she did. Not asking him to turn around. Not going into a different room with Sam. She just grabbed Petey and turned him away like he’s an inconvenient object, with zero agency or will of his own, and nothing in the narrative or Petey’s (non-)reaction argues against that.

      (b) Even if that weren’t the case … It’s fine to disagree with my interpretations, and say that you read it differently. But you’re reading between the lines and bringing your own interpretation to it, and then stating that that’s the context, end of. The text does not actually factually state that. That’s how you read it. It may not be how I read it. You can’t claim that I’m misrepresenting the situation just because we disagree.

      You also said:

      ________________
      when explaining all of this to people who haven’t read the series, the more prevalent/common interpretation should have been included as well (not necessarily by Ms. Corinne, because most people only familiarize themselves with one or two interpretations and not all; this is why the comment system exists, and why Grant and I both brought it up).
      ________________

      With all due respect: Why? This suggests that my interpretation is incomplete or even invalid without other people’s different interpretations. But this is my review, about my opinion. I’m not part of the fandom. I read through most of the series while on vacation, disconnected from any online friends I might have otherwise discussed the books with. I formed these opinions without any outside input. In other words, I have absolutely no idea what the more prevalent/common interpretation might be. To be honest, I resent the idea that speaking about my feelings on the book is somehow misrepresenting it because neither I nor other commenters decided to add conflicting opinions.

      Especially because this is a website specifically devoted to disabled reviewers speaking about the portrayal of disabled characters. I personally value disabled readers’ uncommon opinion of a disabled character far more than I value non-disabled readers’ more common opinions about that character. Of course disabled people’s opinions is likely to be different from the majority opinion: that’s because we’re coming from a vastly different point of reference.

      Finally, you made several statements with similar ideas:

      ________________
      The author of this article makes the same mistake the characters did: she attributes ALL of Petey’s character to his autism and conveniently dismisses everything else that makes him Petey (his moral code, his conflict with the devil-figure, his age, etc.). … The author of this article looked at a lot of Petey’s actions that didn’t match autism and instead of realizing, “Oh, maybe there’s more to his character than a single disability”, she used it against Grant. … if a writer’s work is being misrepresented (NOTE: all the the things above that Ms. Corinne excluded) … misleading information …
      ________________

      There is nothing “convenient” about this, it’s not a “mistake,” I didn’t “miss any details” and I’m not “using” anything against Grant. Come on – these comments make it sound like I have some sort of vendetta against Grant and am either maliciously or ignorantly cherry-picking elements from the books to support a negative opinion. No. Having grown up on Animorphs and Everworld, I wanted to like Gone. I wanted to like Petey. I started every book hopeful his character would improve. I came in with the best of hopes, tried to give the author the benefit of the doubt as I made my way through the series, and was left disappointed.

      Look, this entire review is my interpretation. That’s what a review is. I’m not even reviewing the character as a whole, I’m reviewing how his autism is portrayed.

      (For the record, I do in fact address Petey’s age and my interpretation of his moral code with regards to how they relate to his autism. See the part about “hitting is bad,” how that’s not an unlikely motivation for a five-year-old, and the fact that he saves the day. The Gaiaphage situation is too complicated to get into right now, but suffice it to say, it’s not something I chose to leave out of the review for nefarious purposes.)

      I’m not interested in defending my opinions or interpretations. Your interpretation is different than mine. Cool. Feel free to disagree and explain why. Like you say, that’s why there’s a comments section. But please don’t suggest I’m purposefully misrepresenting anything, or that your and other people’s different interpretations somehow invalidate mine. I read the same books you did. I read them thoroughly. I came away with a different opinion than you did. That’s all.

      The rest of your points have been addressed by others. I’m not involved in the discussions happening elsewhere, but I do know that they aren’t taking place in a vacuum. This review was shared in the middle of a longer, troublesome conversation which started on an SLJ article. And the reaction to that conversation was even stronger than it would’ve otherwise been because of numerous things Grant has said and done in the past. There’s context.

      Again – if you disagree with people, that’s fine, but please realize that they may be working from a different framework. They have different information and experiences influencing their opinions. That doesn’t invalidate those opinions.

      I appreciate your thoughtful comments; I mean that sincerely. I’m not attacking you. I do, however, think it’s important to counter implications that my review was in any way intellectually dishonest. I hope you understand that.

      • Oh, gosh, I never meant to insinuate you did that on purpose, or that bringing up other interpretations was your responsibility – again, it just comes down to result outweighing intent. And the larger result of a few specific points you made, such as Petey being used to make Astrid likeable, was different. As to why the different interpretation was brought up:

        I didn’t mean to devalue your interpretation or results. Yes, I noticed this review was on a site for disabilities in kids’ literature. And in the realm of representing oppressed minorities, the result it has on the minorities IS more important. I’m sorry that I implied differently. I was more concerned that people were taking Grant’s mention of those wider results as him dismissing yours. I meant only to point out that when he brings those up, he’s bringing in some context and adding more information. While the minority views are important, the majority still exists, and bringing them up doesn’t devalue the minority. It just better explains the effect the series had on that larger scale. It doesn’t assert that the larger scale is somehow more important… merely influential.

        I did use some strong wording. A better way to say that would be “…she conflated it with the harmful things about Petey.” When I implied you were “cherrypicking”, I meant less that you did that on purpose or were painting him to be worse than he is, but that this sort of cherrypicking and prioritizing of different details are part of what constructs each person’s interpretation. Again, not that your cherrypicking is less important than mine; only that it’s not the only effect this series had.

        I had hoped that “Ms. Corinne didn’t slander” covered that I didn’t think you did this on purpose or to be harmful, but perhaps tagging that at the end and not correcting my phrasing was lazy on my part.

        As far as bringing up other aspects of his character (ones excluded or marginalized in the article), that was less because I found them relevant to his autism on their own, but more so because that’s where the conflation was. It became relevant when explaining the differences in interpretations. One thing some readers might attribute to Petey’s autism, others attributed to the gaiaphage. To the second group, because autism had nothing to do with it, they don’t get the same negative views on autism that the first group did. Again, more of providing context, and specifying where and to whom the harm has been done.

        I’m sorry that I came across as doubting your integrity. Allow me to correct it here, not to use my intent as an excuse but to better the results of my words: Ms. Corinne was not lying about or demonizing Grant. Grant’s response is not a dismissal of the things she said, but only providing context as to who and how the mistakes she mentioned have hurt his readers.

        The reason I bring up the mess of a conversation from Twitter is because others were first conflating them – it irked me, whether or not the conversation started with this article, for people to hold it up as proof for everything the context of that separate conversation brought about. I didn’t think your article fueled it, and I didn’t like how your article was being misrepresented by that conversation. When I mention that conversation and the accusations it made, I’m mentioning it for the sake of people who came here FROM that heavily contextualized conversation, and trying to differentiate the accusations there with the discussion between you and Grant here.

        While I have your attention (if you’ve read this – I wouldn’t blame you if you didn’t, since my first comments came off as unfair accusations – though, I’d like to thank you for writing your article. As you said, most people develop their own interpretations independently and aren’t aware of anyone else’s – I thoroughly enjoyed reading yours, and am in full belief that my own writing will be bettered for it (I don’t have an autistic character, and don’t want one in the near future purely because of the risk I’d take in misrepresenting the spectrum, but I DO write with other minorities and disabilities that I’m more familiar with – learning how flexible different interpretations of those characters can be has been very eye-opening to me). I’m honored that you read my comment at all, and I’m very sorry I made you feel like you had to respond to defend your intellectual honesty. The biggest reasons I chose to write THIS response was to a) clarify to anyone else who saw my comment and as a result doubted you that you aren’t, in fact, to be doubted (not that you needed me for that, but since it was my transgression I feel the need to step up) and b) show that I’ve read your response and all the effort you put into it didn’t go flying into the wind. You’ve done good work here on this site, and I feel awful for having made you feel like you had to defend it. Getting good representation is a hard enough fight already.

        • Ezzie, I know why I brought up this article on Twitter. It wasn’t to suggest the issue started there. It was to answer the fans who were suggesting the only way you could take issue with the way Autism was represented with Petey was if you didn’t read the book. It was to defend the idea that the autistic boy who read the books and took something negative from it did not do so because his mother told him to. She hadn’t read the books at and didn’t give him the books in the hope she’d say something so she could start a “Twitter Mob” over it. It continues to be upsetting to me that Michael Grant suggested on Twitter that a person with autism able to express this thought couldn’t be that autistic. He is signaling to fans that the opinions/thoughts of non-autistic people about the portrayal of autism take priority over the boy’s thoughts because “he’s not that autistic”. It is a way of thinking reflected in the book with the use of severely autistic. The use of severely autistic, high functioning and low functioning is used to dismiss the thoughts/opinions of people on one end of the spectrum, and to suggest the other end don’t have any so they need someone to speak for them.

          • Good reason to bring it up. Thanks for clarifying. But I wasn’t talking about you or your reasons. I’m talking about the people who copied the link and used it for all sorts of irrelevant things. Unfortunately, that happened.

    • “insisting that a character’s death is oppression is ridiculous”

      I wanted to address this point as no one else seems to have done so.

      Outside of external context that might be true. But we aren’t outside of context, we’re in Disability in Kidlit, talking about a disabled character, and killing off the minority character is so common it has multiple tropes named after it (‘bury your gays’, ‘bury your disabled’ etc). This is a particular troublesome trope for us as disabled people, it suggests that disabled people are better off dead, a burden (oh, hey, look at that, turns out there’s a wider context to what Grant said), or can be sacrificed when convenient. These are doubly troubling because of their relationship to real-life agitation to make this actual policy towards disabled people again (at least two minor UK politicians have called for this in recent years). I say ‘again’ because Aktion T4 killed 200,000+ disabled Germans, Austrians and Poles, many children, prior to the start of the better known Holocaust. 300,000 disabled people were sterilized by the Nazis prior to WWII, and sterilization was common in much of the West, notably the US, into the 50s and even later. It still happens occasionally. One of the most prominent of current philosophers, Peter Singer, is outspoken in his belief a disabled life is a wasted life and that parents should be able to ‘replace’ a disabled child with an ‘improved’ Mark 2. These are the fears we live with, these are the fears that make killing off a disabled character deeply problematical.

      Along with cure narratives, killing off the disabled character forms part of a wider narrative of erasure, one that advocates a world without disabled people, and that’s a real problem for us, one it is absolutely appropriate we draw attention to. If you’re writing about disabled characters, then it is your professional responsibility to do the research in sufficient depth to understand this. It doesn’t mean you can’t kill off a disabled character, or a character in another minority, but it means you must consider that decision in a wider context than just your current work and be able to justify it.

  9. Corinne–thank you for the excellent review of GONE. I read it when it was first posted; and I am grateful to revisit it. I always appreciate your fine writing and analysis. I read the book. To me, this is the last word on it.

    I appreciate that you took the time to respond Mr. Grant’s and Ezzie’s posts. I know the emotional cost of engaging about ideas and one’s own work on this visceral level.

    Ezzie—I’m sorry that you cannot step away and process anything Corinne writes without feeling the need to immediately center yourself in the argument and stubbornly defend your preconceived notions about the series. In defending Mr. Grant, you have waded into even deeper waters than he did with his reply, and have called out Duyvis’ professionalism in unconscionable ways. (You deny this. But, again, here you are saying aspects of Petey have been “excluded or marginalized in this article.” Those are interesting terms for you to use.)

    Your “the lovely Ms. Corinne” and “oh, gosh,” are disingenuous and insulting when you keep walking in the same circle, insisting that there is some broader context to be had (there isn’t) about a dismal portrayal of an autistic character—that somehow Duyvis is missing. I gather that you think Duyvis is missing what you are seeing precisely because she is autistic. You see this as a blind spot; rather than an authoritative position on the issue. The majority culture view on this book and character is very important to you. You demand it receive equal standing.

    “While the minority views are important, the majority still exists, and bringing them up doesn’t devalue the minority.”

    Actually, it does. I am Deaf with pulmonary fibrosis. The writers on Disability in Kidlit are disabled. You are, in fact, a minority in this forum. You have no right to expect for us to validate your (admittedly) biased, ill-informed point of view on autistic representation as equal to our own.

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