The Vermont College of Fine Arts Writing for Children & Young Adults residency is in full swing and I am here in Santa Fe feeling homesick. So I want to take this opportunity to talk about a fabulous new book I read recently by another VCFA alum, Lyn Miller-Lachmann.
I met Lyn when I was at VCFA, and she’s just one of those people you are profoundly glad to have met and are profoundly glad is walking around on this planet. She’s been writing and blogging for years to raise awareness about social justice issues and how they relate to children at Waging Peace and The Pirate Tree. And she is a tireless supporter of her fellow writers.
I got the opportunity to read her most recent novel Rogue a few weeks ago and it is truly wonderful.
Kiara has a difficult time making — and keeping — friends. She has Asperger’s syndrome,so relating to other people doesn’t come naturally. Most of the time, she relies on Mr. Internet — her go-to when the world doesn’t make sense, which is often — and her imagination, where she daydreams that she’s Rogue, one of the mutant superheroes of the X-Men. In the comics, Rogue hurts anyone she touches, but eventually learns to control her special power. Kiara hasn’t discovered her own special power yet, but when Chad moves in across the street, she hopes that, for once, she’ll be able to make friendship stick. She’s even willing to keep Chad’s horrible secret, if that’s what it takes. But being a true friend is complicated, and it might be just the thing that leads her to her special power.
I talk a lot about abuse and neglect on here. But there are a lot of other tough things that kids have to deal with. And one of them is just plain being different. Lyn portrays a young woman with Asperger’s with compassion and authority. Lyn has Asperger’s herself. Asperger’s Syndrome is considered by many to be on the Autism spectrum, a light, high-functioning form. Children with Asperger’s are often brilliant, but they can have a lot of trouble with social interactions, with reading facial cues, with interacting in appropriate ways. And they often don’t like to be touched.
I think that probably the biggest affect this has on a child is that he or she has trouble making friends, is isolated, and can be bullied quite a lot by other children, especially at school. This is the case for Kiara who sees herself as a mutant freak like Rogue from the X-Men.
There have been a lot of books in the past several years featuring characters with Aspie’s. Marcelo in the Real World, An Abundance of Katherines, The Very Ordered Existence of Marilee Marvelous, and The Curious Incidence of the Dog in the Night all spring to mind. And while I loved several of these and, having had several friends with Asperger’s and being possibly somewhere on the spectrum myself, think that some of them are very good portrayals of characters with Asperger’s, none of them really seem to address that primary conflict head on in the way that Rogue does.
Kids want friends. Heck, adults want friends. Not even the shyest of us really wants to walk through the world completely alone, do we? But kids can be brutal in their socialization. Anyone who doesn’t fit can be brutally maligned. It’s hard, especially at school. The longing that Lyn’s character feels to have a friend and to understand why she fails at making friends over and over is just beautifully portrayed and poignant. And the way that Kiara grows in her understanding of other people and her capacity to be a true friend is so heart-warming. And over the course of the novel, she does discover her super-power. She isn’t just different than other people, she has gifts because of who she is that make her, in fact, beautiful and invaluable.
I would recommend this book for any school library. It’s not just relevant for kids who have Asperger’s. This is a must-read for anyone who feels different and has trouble fitting in. Any kid who is bullied or can’t say the right things or dress the same way as the other kids. This is a book of hope for anyone who doesn’t know how to be the same as everyone else.
Lyn has agreed to an interview, as well, so stay tuned for that!