Can I just write: "NOOOOO, not another 'autistic person as a burden' book?" and leave it at that?
Why do authors think that this narrative is still okay? Why do publishers promote it as "heartwarming" and "invigorating" and, my personal favorite (in Bizarro World, obviously, where "favorite" means "loathed"), "inspirational."
NEWSFLASH: Neurodiverse people do not exist to make neurotypical people feel better about themselves. Writing books that reinforce this stereotype is harmful and close-minded. It is not Literary Fiction, which I'm sure everyone will be hailing this as.
As a confession, I did not read the entire book. Maybe it gets better as it goes on. It probably does not. The plot of this is like a sad, outmoded romantic comedy, but without the romance or any comedy whatsover. In the first few chapters, readers are hit with fat-shaming, the Evil Stepparent trope, the guilty sibling trope, the oversexed teens trope, and the "You complete me" trope.
Let me talk about that last one a bit. As a single person, I think it would be nice if I found someone and fell in love with them and they with me. However, I do not think that I need to find a person in order to become fully myself. That's ... just a really strange idea. Am I not enough as I am? This is why that line in Jerry Maguire bothers me so much: it's manipulative and just plain untrue.
I may be trying to distract myself from the giant, flaming dumpster fire that is Things I Should Have Known by referencing a twenty-year-old Tom Cruise movie. Yep. Okay, time to face my anger head on.
Let's just pull some quotes, okay? I know this is from an ARC, so these are subject to change, et cetera, et cetera, but honestly? I've not read too many ARCs where a substantial change was made to a problematic quote (one I can think of is There Will Be Lies, by Nick Lake. The main character's weight was upped from 100lbs to 115lbs, which takes her out of the Death Zone and into Still Pretty Darn Tiny). Please remember that the narrator is a teen girl whose older sister, Ivy, is autistic. Presumably, she has lived with this sister since she was born.
"I don't know much about autism, but I know about high school guys, and it looks to me like he's interested in her." I beg your pardon? The main character, Chloe, who has spent roughly seventeen years on this Earth with her sister, who is autistic, doesn't know much about autism? Tee-hee! It's so much more fun to talk about boys! Boys! Boys! YOU, madam, are a terrible advocate for your sister.
" 'I will say I'm jealous of how you can eat whatever you want and stay thin, Chloe. I never had your metabolism.' " That's their mother. And Chloe takes it as a compliment! Hey, number one way to screw with a girl's head: make comments about her weight.
Chloe's main pastime is making out with her super-hot boyfriend, Jason. Jason isn't exactly what I would call a prime catch, based on what he thinks of intelligence in girls:" 'If I have to choose, I'd say that brains are overrated.' " Please go fall in a hole, preferably one with pointy sticks at the bottom. Also, Chloe agrees with this sentiment (the bod over brains one, not the falling in the hole one).
" 'I'm going to make this my mission--to get Ivy a boyfriend before I leave for college.' " Noooooooo. Noooooo. The author is using Ivy's autism to make her less than a person, and more of a Barbie doll to be dressed up and paired off with a guy. Because obviously autistic people don't know how to date properly. Obviously they would need their neurotypical siblings to play matchmaker/fairy godmother and explain the sex and the kissing and birth control and how humans love other humans.
Hey, here's an idea, Chloe: Let Ivy live her life. She doesn't need you to fix her, and she is not your super special project. She does not exist to make you feel better about yourself. You don't get brownie points for "helping" an aneurotypical person to be "normal." There is so much wrong with that. You are telling them that they are not good enough as they are. That you don't love them as they are. That you don't think they could ever succeed by just being themselves.
I don't want any teen reading this to think, "Oh, I'm like Ivy. I can't date anyone without help." I don't want teens to feel othered and alone, but that's exactly what this book does. And that's wrong. Publishers, stop promoting this point of view. Stop selling highly problematic narratives just because they make people feel good about themselves (oh, sorry, only the neurotypical people feel good about themselves. Neurodiverse people feel pretty crappy.).
Autism is not a plot point. Autism is not a curiosity. Autism is not a project to be completed, or an error to be fixed. It is reality, and YA literature really needs to step it up in having more Own Voices represent neurodiversity instead of this saccharine, Hollywood version that will end up giving you a horrific ache in the pit of your stomach.
I received an ARC of this title from Netgalley.