Notes on my Family by Emily Critchley | 1 Minute Reviews

This book has been on my radar for some time. A few months back at the launch for Editing Emma by the wonderful Chloe Seager, I met Emily Critchley and we got talking. She mentioned this book she was working on, and of course she said the golden word – “autistic”. I knew I had to read it.

Lou is thirteen-and-a-half. Her school life is terrible. Her family are falling apart now that her dad has announced he’s leaving her mum for a schoolgirl.

And she’s autistic, but she doesn’t know it yet.

9781911427056

This hook is what originally interested me, having lived that experience myself – the way you explain away your quirks, assume everyone else must think the same way you do, presume everyone finds the world abjectly terrifying at all costs. In a world where so many people raised as women aren’t diagnosed until their late twenties, this book is incredibly timely. Lou doesn’t have a diagnosis, but she knows she is different, citing some of her problems as undiagnosed dyspraxia.

Lou’s narrative voice is rich, witty, and charming, her slightly baffled viewpoint ringing out with humour even in the hardest situations. As with The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas, Critchley has constructed not only a memorable character, but a neurodiverse person that many, many people will resonate with. I absolutely fell for her, the girl with a rich fantasy world of a homeschooled life in Scotland, who’d rather watch a nature documentary than answer a phone call.

In the darkest moments of the book, I kept having to pause, tears streaming down my face, desperate to reach through the pages to talk to her. I think every person, especially those who are also autistic, will feel very much the same as me.

Autistic representation aside, this novel is an impressive, heart-aching family drama that investigates divorce, the realities of complex mental illness and the freeing nature of true friendships. The heavy subjects are buoyed by Lou’s witty observations, gently approached through Critchley’s talented writing.

Screen Shot 2017-11-19 at 20.59.37
While not technically published until the 23rd Nov, I’ve already found a few copies out in the wild! This one at Foyles Charing Cross.

One of my favourite plot points was Lou’s burgeoning friendship with extremely cool new girl Faith. Raised in a co-parenting family and haunted by dark days, Faith is never without a music recommendation or a fitting quote from philosophical texts; I’m not sure if I wanted to befriend her or be her. Perhaps both.

Notes on my Family is an impressive debut novel from Emily Critchley, a tale of relationships and people told from the point of view of someone who struggles to understand either. This is not only a tremendously enjoyable read, but an important piece of autistic literature.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Notes on my Family is published by Everything with Words, an independent publisher of children’s books. Thank you to Emily Critchley, her agent Chloe Seager and Everything with Words for sharing this copy with me.

If you want to read more stories with autistic protagonists, or books about autism, go check out The Essential Autistic Reading List.

Happy birthday to me | Hux Tales

This week was my birthday.

Not my real birthday as in the day I emerged into the world, twenty three days late and pretty mardy about it; that’s back in September.

But this day is my real birthday in another way. On Monday was one year since I was diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder.

15073383_10157831338990624_7835606502323642592_n

I’m sure it probably seems weird to celebrate a diagnosis, but hear me out.

I have spent my whole life knowing I was different, but not being able to put my finger on it. There were certainly parts of my personality and interests that were different from many of the other kids – nerdy, book obsessed, awkward, not remotely interested in fashion – and a regular target for bullying. I managed to get through school and university by surrounding myself with like-interested people, good kind people who didn’t mind that I was a bit odd, or even better, cherished it.

It wasn’t until I was 27 that a friend of mine was diagnosed with Asperger’s that I started realising this was probably the missing keystone. This friend and I have long joked that actually we must have the same genetics, as we both have non-epileptic seizures, wonky joints, an insensitivity to gluten, anxiety in all the same places… and it was only when I looked into Asperger’s* that I realised it was me.

That realisation was really freeing. I had a name for my differences, for how I saw the world, how I experienced it. And I immediately stopped beating myself up about it. Once I got the final stamp of approval pictured at the top, the last vestiges of attempting to remodel myself as a neurotypical person flew out the window. I’m autistic, I’m different, and that’s actually really cool.

I also looked extremely cute this week tbh

It is not a panacea, of course. Being autistic isn’t all super awesome, as it comes along with a bunch of comorbid conditions, both mental and physical health. I still have the hang ups, the trauma, but I genuinely care less.

I used to celebrate November because (and this is going to sound weird) it was when my seizures came back after my last trip to the Philippines. This marked a seriously dark time in my life where I realised I had to give up diving, but being the person I am, I refused to let myself slip into that place, got a job at a marine focused charity in London and carved out a new life. That is what I used to celebrate, the refusal to let my body get the best of me, remembering that each change to my life is an opportunity for something new.

I’ve now switched it over to my Autism Diagnosis, but essentially the reasoning is the same. I found something new out about myself. My life changed. But I still have control of it. It is still very much my life and I’m in the immensely privileged position to be able to live as I do.

What has changed in the last year?

I got Nerys! She’s my little daemon and also my emotional support dog. In the UK, this type of service dog has no legal recognition but they are a big deal in America, so I hope one day in the future they’ll be recognised. Basically, she goes everywhere with me, she helps me feel less anxious, she reminds me to look after myself by looking after her too. She’s helped me knock a big chunk of my anxiety about going outside out of the park (not literally) and means I go outside much more.

At 5 weeks old on the day we met and at 9 months old

I stopped being a booksellerMy health was making working in a bookshop very difficult and so it became unsustainable to continue working such a physically demanding job. I miss aspects of it every single day, which is why my social media has become so book intense.

I came out as nonbinary! This is something I have sort of known about myself forever, living in the space of not-girl and not-boy, but only having the word “tomboy” to describe it. In terms of the “I always knew” narratives of LGTBQ lives, while I didn’t know I was queer for a very long time, I have had what I now recognise as gender dysphoria for much of my life. But, it wasn’t until I started reading about autism, and how many of us are trans, the intersection of those two identities, that I realised that I was two for two.

I’ve been out-ish to some people in the past few years as I felt it out (admittedly, mostly only to other non binary people and Tim), but this year I started using the phrase more, talking about it more, told my sister and my parents. I’ve been thinking a lot about pronouns, and whether I ever want to masculinise my appearance to be a bit more in line with how I see myself. At the moment, I’m sticking as I am, feeling out my happiness in open about it. I’m considering buying a binder, though I’ve found that throwing out some clothes that would trigger my dysphoria has really helped. For now, sports bras do the trick and aren’t incredibly uncomfortable to wear.

I moved in with my inlaws! Tim and I realised that our rental situation was financially precarious and moved to the West London suburbs to live with his parents. We are incredibly lucky to be able to do this, and they’ve been really caring and kind to us. We both miss our old flat a lot, but I was waking up overstimulated every single day due three building sites semi adjacent to our building. It was the right decision, not least because now I get to see fields from my window.

I helped start a independent publishing press! Literally I’m never going to stop mentioning 3 of Cups Press, go admire our website and preorder our first book On Anxiety which publishes in January!! We are launching our second book on Kickstarter in early 2018 and submissions for our future books shortly after that, so follow us on Twitter, sign up for our newsletter and get ready for a 2018 of amazing new authors. I’ve got a bundle of other creative things that I can’t announce right now so I’m positively vibrating with secrets.

Writing it down… wow. A lot has happened. And you know what? I feel great about it. I’m feeling pretty proud of myself lately, so I say happy birthday to me.

 

* A little aside: in the UK, people who fit the Asperger’s criteria are now more likely to get an Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD) diagnosis, but my report made it clear that I also fit the Asperger’s profile. Asperger’s has been integrated into ASD along with a couple of other conditions.

Got any questions? Ask them in the comments below and I’ll do my best to answer them there or in a larger Q&A type post.

Undercover Princess by Connie Glynn | 1 Minute Reviews

I’ve been watching Connie Glynn aka Noodlerella on Youtube for a while; I’m quite particular to her brand of whimsy and she always has good anime recommendations. When I saw she’d written a book, I wasn’t surprised. During my time as a bookseller, most prominent UK YouTubers either had a book out or on the go, though generally these were non-fiction, self help type affairs. Instead, Connie wrote about her mainstay: princesses.

Cute, I figured. Good for her. It will sell well. And then I thought little more about it until I saw a sampler on the Penguin stall at YALC, which I popped into my tote. The cover of the book (and the sampler) is pretty beautiful, and I am somewhat of a magpie. I figured I’d give the sampler a go, and then resign it to the pile of books that are popular that I won’t bother with.

And then I read the sampler and was absolutely charmed by it. So much so, that I tweeted my lovely chums at Penguin and they very kindly sent me a full proof copy.

I am still charmed, especially because this book is pretty gay in ways I was not expecting.

9780141379852

Now, Connie herself is out as bisexual/queer on YouTube and I was kind of hoping that this would naturally appear in her work. It does, friends.

Let’s step back a little. Undercover Princess follows Lottie Pumpkin, who leaves her life with her stepmother to attend the prestigious Rosewood Academy on a rare scholarship for excellence, herself being the first recipient in twelve years. Upon arrival, she discovers she shares a room with wild, messy Ellie Wolf. When it is revealed the heir to the Maravish throne is attending Rosewood, suspicion is cast upon Lottie by the other students. To her surprise, Ellie reveals to her that she is in fact the princess in disguise and Lottie agrees to keep up the pretence, taking on the mantle of Portman.

There’s a moment 80% in (not a spoiler) where Lottie learns of a romance between Portman and Princess, and has a minor public episode, and by this point I was yelling at the book YOU ARE GAY YOU ARE GAY THIS BOOK IS GAY with the glee of someone who’d solved some kind of mystery. Maybe I’m wrong, but there’d been a lot of longing glances, weird not-quite-jealousy moments and a moment of “platonic” hand stroking.

AC0F1EE3-A5D7-4DE5-B7EB-F90510434DE0

This feels pretty exciting and radical to me because this book is aimed at the tween end of YA, that tricky area when one steps from adventurous but polite Middle Grade fiction (in the UK also known as age 9-12) over to sexed up drunk teen fiction. This area can be quite tricky to find books for but ahoy, this is a great one that also appears to have some LGBTQ+ characters and themes – aside from my headcanon Ellie & Lottie romance, there are a number of other LGBTQ characters in the book. The writing feels firmly accessible tween (though I think most readers who’ve ventured into the Middle Grade section will be fine with this), and is really quite charming. There’s a lot in here about treating others with respectful behaviour whilst also setting boundaries as a self care priority. The morals are all completely in the right place.

I’m pretty impressed with this first outing from Glynn and look forward to reading more of the Rosewood Chronicles in the coming years. I think if you know a young person who loves fairy tales, magical British boarding school nostalgia (like Harry Potter) or all things Disney, this would make an easy win Christmas present, not least because of how pretty it is.

Interested? Get it here.

What to read next:

Thank you ever so much to the team at Penguin Platform and Penguin Huddle who sent me over the proof copy.