The book ultimately provides a single-faceted understanding of autism and many of the painful interactions with Willem’s teacher and peers would likely hit too close to home for autistic students.
Like in real life, autism spectrum disorder alone is never the whole story, and Baskin does a good job balancing Jason’s autism with his writing life, family, school, and budding friendship. She’s succeeded in creating an authentic autistic character who is anything but stereotypical.
For all that there are moments when Rose’s voice is nuanced and shines, those nuances continuously pushed aside for a far more stereotypical narrative. This is not the story of an autistic character written for an inclusive audience; this is a story about an autistic character written for a neurotypical audience.
This book was awarded the National Book Award for Young People’s Literature, but as well intentioned as it might have been, it was clearly written by someone with almost no understanding of what Aspies are really like—it was written by and for a neurotypical audience.
Here is a key insight to creating realistic autistic characters: We do not do the visibly autistic things we do because of “autism,” full stop. Like non-autistic people, we are responding to our experiences of the world. Those experiences simply differ from those of non-autistic people.