Harmonic Feedback by Tara Kelly tells the tale of a teenage girl with Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, and anxiety disorder who joins a band and meets her dream guy.
At least, that’s what I thought it would be about. It turned out to be something totally different.
I chose this book because I, too, have Asperger’s and am learning how to play guitar. I am always eager to see disabilities represented in books, and Harmonic Feedback did not let me down. It’s stunning in more ways than one: the storytelling is amazing, the character development is awesome, and Kelly had me hanging on her every word as the plot unfolded.
We meet Drea, the main character, and her mom as they are arriving at Drea’s grandmother’s house. At first, I hated Drea’s grandmother. I thought she was mean, but towards the end of the book I began to see her change.
This book contains everything from first kisses in the rain to meeting another autistic person, to dealing with surprising friendship and heartbreaking loss.
I won’t give away any spoilers, but towards the end something very surprising (at least to me) happens, and I couldn’t believe it.
I cannot praise this book highly enough. I would give it five out of five stars and definitely recommend this book to other autistic teenagers and young adults. I do feel like some of the content matter is too mature for younger kids; if you’re not into mentions of drugs, violence, or sex, I wouldn’t read this book.
I saw, and still see, a lot of myself in Drea, and I imagine other autistic folks will be able to do the same. I smiled with recognition when I read about Drea rocking back and forth and covering her ears in loud and stressful situations, because I stim in stressful situations, too. I truly understood her: I have also gone through many different therapists and psychiatrists, and also have trouble understanding social cues and facial expressions. It was so nice to see accurate representation, because as an autistic person, I don’t see that very often.
I do have some criticisms, however: one is that Drea seems ableist. She uses the R-word a few times, which is one of those words I absolutely despise. It is, unfortunately, common for disabled people to have internalized ableism. This can be seen in the book when Drea says that Asperger’s is different than Classic Autism. She sees herself as higher-functioning than Justin’s niece. The terms “high-functioning” and “low-functioning” are loaded phrases, with non-autistic people’s ideas of what functioning is “supposed” to look like. Levels of functioning are not for non-autistic people to decide. No one really called out Drea’s ableism; there was nobody who said, “Hey, that’s not cool.”
Another criticism I have is that Drea hates medication. I’m personally on medication for OCD, depression, and anxiety, and I believe medication, along with therapy, can make all the difference in the world for some people. It’s true that medication may not be for everyone, but I hate the trope that medication is evil, and makes people less themselves. Medication can save lives.
I also liked the way that Kelly wove in Drea’s special interest into the story. The descriptions never sounded like rants to me, but as intriguing descriptions of music production. To me, someone who isn’t very interested in music production, it was fascinating. Now, if only I could apply that same interest to my geometry class…
In short, this book was amazing. It will always have a special place in my heart, and I can’t wait to read it again.