Vintage Autistic Book Party, Episode 0: Movement

(This post was published on February 26, 2012 – hard to believe that’s more than five whole years ago. It’s about Nancy Fulda’s short story, “Movement”, which was nominated for the Hugo and Nebula that year. You may note that this post is not structured like other Autistic Book Party posts, and that it doesn’t give as much context or introduction to the story it’s talking about. This is because it actually predates the Autistic Book Party series, as such. It’s the very first autism review I ever posted publicly. Please enjoy this blast from the past!)

I want to say this as concisely as I can.

Naming a fictional condition after autism, when even the characters in the story agree it is nothing like autism, is a bizarre choice. Cashing in on autism in this manner while it’s trendy is not helpful to autistic people, our families, or anyone else.

Writing a bad depiction of autism, and saying “but it isn’t real autism!”, does not excuse you for writing a bad depiction of autism.

Real autistic people have things going on in our lives other than autism. “I don’t want to be cured” is a nice sentiment, but it rings a little hollow when it is the conclusion to a story in which nothing happens except other people being unhappy with the protagonist’s not-autism, other people wanting to “cure” her, and her trying to deal with her perceptual differences. These are things that happen in the lives of most autistic people, but a story with this structure inherently distorts and romanticizes them.

You can write a story like this and still be an ally of neurodiversity. But writing a story like this does not make you an ally. Reading a story like this does not make you an ally. Voting for a story like this in awards season does not make you an ally. It is, in fact, unhelpful.

Real autistic people’s lives are not like this story.

It’s not my job to tell you what to vote for. Vote for what you like. But please understand what it is you are voting for.

Autism News, 2017/04/21

April is Autism Month – Autism Awareness Month to some, and Autism Acceptance Month to others, and sometimes just the annoying month where we have to listen to more Autism Speaks propaganda than usual – so there’s been a lot of news!

Shannon des Roches Rosa has been making some good 101 posts this month at The Thinking Person’s Guide to Autism:

Pan-disability politics and policy, from the US:

  • Michelle Diament on how new U.S. Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch deals with disability cases
  • S.E. Smith on why more disabled people are employed in some US states than others
  • The U.S. Supreme Court recently made an important decision about disability and the death penalty(For anyone who needs more evidence about why representation in fiction matters, this article describes how the state of Texas has literally been evaluating people’s eligibility for the death penalty based on their resemblance to a fictional character.)
  • Elsa Sjunesson-Henry on protesting while disabled

From Canada and the UK:

Posts about ABA:

Media and writing:

Sad things:

  • Lifestyle Solutions, an Australian nonprofit that manages group homes for disabled people, is under investigation for abuse and neglect causing a series of deaths.  (TW: In addition to what it says on the can, there is also mention of sexual assault. I have not watched the video that accompanies the article but, based on the description, would not recommend doing so.)
  • Amelia Hill interviews three autistic mothers of autistic children (TW: all three mothers discuss, among other things, a fear of social services taking their children away; abuse by third parties is also mentioned.)

 

Autistic Book Party, Episode 32: Otherbound

Today’s Book: “Otherbound” by Corinne Duyvis

The Plot: Every time Nolan (a modern teenager) blinks, he sees through the eyes of Amara, a servant girl in a fantasy world.

Autistic Character(s): The author.

This is my second review of one of Duyvis’s books, after “On the Edge of Gone”. Although “Otherbound” has no autistic characters and runs on a completely different premise, the two books share a diverse, disabled cast and a keen awareness of the power dynamics that constrain each character.

Seeing through the eyes of someone in another world sounds cool, until you stop and think about what it would actually entail. The connection between Nolan and Amara is invasive and unpleasant for both of them. Amara doesn’t want to be constantly watched, even in her most private moments, by a person she doesn’t know. Nolan doesn’t want to be constantly distracted from what’s happening in front of him by his uncontrollable visions – especially when Amara spends time being abused, injured, even tortured, in ways Nolan feels but can do nothing about. When he does find methods to affect Amara’s world, they are methods that can violate Amara’s agency. Duyvis does a good job showing the complexities of how the two of them try to deal with this and to negotiate boundaries – clumsily, imperfectly, a little at a time and with a lot of justified resentment.

Nolan’s periods of distraction have been misdiagnosed as a form of epilepsy. The trope of a character being misdiagnosed because of their magical powers can be problematic, but Duyvis handles it deftly. The trick is that Nolan is genuinely disabled by his visions. He’s not an able-bodied person who was called disabled because people misunderstood him; he’s a disabled person who got told the wrong name for his disability. Because of his visions, he can’t keep up with school, maintain normal friendships, or even fold laundry successfully; that’s how difficult it is for him to focus on the world that is around him. Meanwhile, other disabilities and forms of diversity are also represented. Before the book begins, Nolan lost his foot in a car accident (caused by his visions). He belongs to a Latinx family and speaks both Spanish and English at home; money is a problem, and his mother has taken a second job to help pay for his medicine. Amara is bisexual, her world is predominantly nonwhite, and she is non-speaking, because her tongue was cut out when she became a servant: servants in her world converse using sign language.

You might have guessed already from these descriptions that a lot of unpleasant things happen in this book. They do. And, especially in the first half of the book, Amara and Nolan are both relatively helpless in the face of these unpleasant things. It can be difficult to slog through scene after scene of Amara being treated horribly and Nolan running off to curl up somewhere and feel sick. This does improve as the book goes on: characters gain more control and more agency, and the pace picks up. The last third in particular is delightfully full of nail-biting twists as the characters discover secrets about why they are connected as they are, and what that means for their worlds.

A lack of character agency in places might also be an unfair criticism, because it’s intimately connected to one of “Otherbound”‘s greatest strengths: its keen awareness of power dynamics. Amara lacks agency, not because of anything wrong with her as a person, but because she’s been trained since childhood to do nothing but obey and will be punished if she deviates. The people who abuse her are bad in an obvious way, but Duyvis spends just as much time detailing subtler ways in which power affects Amara’s life. She is attracted to the princess she serves, for instance, but their power difference makes that attraction difficult to deal with in ways that the princess’s sincere attempts at kindness do nothing to fix. The princess herself is under a magical curse in which any small injury could kill her, and this makes her dependent on others for help. As mentioned, Nolan and Amara’s connection brings additional forms of powerlessness into both lives which are difficult to deal with. And while Nolan lives a materially more comfortable life, he has his own power problems: not least of which is the fact that he has to lie to his family and his doctor to conceal what’s really happening during his “seizures”.

(This leads to one of my few other criticisms, which is so small that I really don’t feel it’s worth mentioning, but I’m compulsive and I have to. Duyvis mentions in the epilogue that Nolan ends up seeing a therapist who helps him deal with the trauma of what happened to him during the book. I understand why this line would be included: it’s good to show trauma being real, and characters going to therapy for it without being judged. But Nolan previously spends the entire book hiding his visions from everyone because no one will believe him; most people would classify his visions as hallucinations or delusions. So where does he suddenly find a therapist who believes him and who gives him appropriate PTSD therapy instead of trying to treat him for being delusional? And how does he explain this therapist to his parents? Therapy is not equally accessible to everyone, and that is a point that people often forget.)

Like “On the Edge of Gone”, “Otherbound” is at times a difficult read, but a well-crafted one which has important things to say about agency and power, and which sensitively portrays an intersectionally diverse world. If you can stand the abuse scenes, you could do a lot worse than to pick this one up.

The Verdict: Recommended-2

Ethics statement: I have occasionally corresponded with Corinne Duyvis and have posted reviews on her Disability in Kidlit site. I read her book by borrowing an e-copy from my local library. All opinions expressed here are my own.

This book was chosen by my Patreon backers. If these reviews are valuable to you, consider becoming a backer; for as little as $1, you can join in voting on the next autistic book.

For a list of past/future/possible Autistic Book Party books, or to recommend a new one, click here.

Dreamwidth

Since 2014, this blog has been hosted on WordPress and mirrored on LiveJournal, where I still logged in frequently to read friends’ journals. Things happened with LiveJournal this year. Some people bailed immediately; I dithered and dithered until I realized that all the people I enjoy interacting with there have either picked up sticks and gone blog-only, or have moved to Dreamwidth.

So: Hi! I’m moving to Dreamwidth too. HI AGAIN OLD FRIENDS, and special hi to any new people who might be interested in this news.

I know most people are exporting all their old posts and transferring them to Dreamwidth. I elected not to do that, for a number of reasons. WordPress has been the primary host for my author blog for several years now. The content older than that is… eh. I had a strong feeling that I’m not going to miss it, and that I would prefer a fresh start.

The exception to this, of course, is older Autistic Book Party posts. ALL OF MY AUTISTIC BOOK PARTY REVIEWS HAVE BEEN BACKED UP. THEY ARE NOT LOST! But some links to them are going to be broken for a little while. (This would also have happened if I’d transferred all my old stuff to Dreamwidth, just in a different way.) I’ve decided I’d like to take the opportunity to repost them one at a time, as Vintage Autistic Book Party posts. This will allow me to bring some attention back to reviews I did before 2014, and also to make minor edits for things like typos (and for the new Recommended-1 and Recommended-2 categories). I hope you will enjoy the nostalgia over the next month or two, and not be too irritated by any broken links in the meantime. Eventually, once all the Vintage Autistic Book Party posts are back up, all the links will get fixed and everything will be hosted in one place, but I just don’t want to overload myself trying to fix them all at once.

Vintage Autistic Book Party will not affect the rate at which I produce new Autistic Book Party posts for my Patreon backers. The reverse may or may not be true.

I know this is a little bit of a weird way to do things, and I’m grateful to all of you (both on WordPress and LJ/Dreamwidth) for bearing with me as I do things in my own weird, behind-the-times way.

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