The main character (and narrator) in Anything But Typical is Jason, an autistic 12-year-old. Jason’s observations about himself, his parents, fellow students and teachers are exquisitely insightful.
Autism is not a new subject but I think it is one that is confusing to many people–both those who are personally involved with it and those who are not. Autism is often defined as ‘seeing things differently.’ As much as we talk about appreciating differences, it remains a challenging concept for all of us. Jason is able to express this with specific examples from his own life. He observes that people will say one thing with their words, but mean something entirely different. He has learned about “being mean” from classmates who call him names and laugh at him.
Many times he is frustrated because he cannot put into words what he is feeling, or wants to express. How many of us have experienced the same thing? And then Jason discovers writing. He can use words to express himself in a way that is inspired! He posts stories on a Storyboard website. He finds his stories allow him to both express and work through some of his thoughts and feelings. His stories are noticed by another reader–a girl, who recognizes the beauty and poignancy of his writing. When Jason finds out he will be attending the Storyboard convention at the same time she is, he is afraid of what will happen when she meets him in person.
Anything But Typical leaves me in awe. It is another of those books that allows me to think and reflect in a different way about the people around me and how we communicate with each other. I feel as if it has given me a precious gift: a reminder of the importance of listening with my heart as well as my ears. This book has the potential to make each reader a better person in the small daily ways that help us appreciate one another.
I highly recommend this book as both an independent and a read-aloud selection, for middle school age readers especially. I would definitely use this as a read-aloud selection in a 6th Grade (maybe also 5th Grade) classroom. It offers a springboard for so many discussions–some of which could involve autism specifically, but not necessarily.