Some changes to Autistic Book Party ratings

I’m pleased to announce a few minor changes to how Autistic Book Party rates books (and short fiction, and poetry).

In the beginning, everything on Autistic Book Party was either Recommended, YMMV, or Not Recommended. These are still the main categories. Later, I added the Marginal category, for cases where an autistic character is written well but is only a very minor part of the story.

I have been amassing a lot of Recommended work, especially in the Short Form category, and I worry that the sheer number of works will become overwhelming. So I’m introducing a new rating, Highly Recommended, for stories that are the very, very best (like no one ever was). If you don’t have time to read everything that is Recommended, you can start with just these.

This category is intended to be a very short list, so I am deliberately making it difficult for a work to get this rating. To be Highly Recommended, a work needs to do all of the following:

  • Autism is foregrounded in the story. At least one major character must be autistic and it must be clear in the text of story – not merely from author’s notes, etc, or through fan diagnosis – that this is what they are. In a story with a contemporary or near-future setting, this means actually using the word “autism”. In other settings, the character(s)’ neurodivergence should be made clear in some way appropriate to the setting.
  • The story, like any Recommended story, portrays autism well and authentically.
  • The story has something important to say about autism or a closely related issue. The story would be significantly altered if the autistic characters were not autistic.
  • The story is written at a professional level in terms of plot, characterization, setting, atmosphere, and style.
  • Many stories do very good and important things overall, but also do other things that I have qualms about. I have absolutely no compunctions about giving a story like this a Recommended rating even if I am uncomfortable with certain aspects, and just talking out the points of discomfort in the text of the review. A Highly Recommended story, however, does not give me any of these qualms. It is purely good. It doesn’t stumble.
  • The story gives me feels. On a purely personal, subjective level, I love this story.

The author’s identity is not formally a criterion for a Highly Recommended rating. It’s possible for a neurotypical author to write a Highly Recommended story, but I doubt it will happen.

Stories that are good, and portray autism well, but which are not quite amazing enough to be Highly Recommended, will continue to get a Recommended rating. This will be the majority of stories that I recommend.

There are currently two stories I’ve already reviewed which I feel deserve a Highly Recommended rating. These two stories are “Difference of Opinion” by Meda Kahn and “Geometries of Belonging” by Rose Lemberg. They have been moved to the appropriate part of the Reviews Index.

As of the time I am writing this, no book-length work has yet met the criteria for being Highly Recommended.

I’ve also been dissatisfied for a long time with how I handle good stories written by autistic authors that don’t have autistic characters in them. I absolutely think that such stories deserve recommendation and promotion. I do feel, though, that the motivation for seeking out these stories is a little different from the motivation for seeking out stories about autism, and both types of story are doing different things. It never felt quite right to me to lump both types into the same category, even though I earnestly wanted to recommend them both.

Therefore, in addition to creating the Highly Recommended category, I am separating the rest of the Recommended category into Recommended-1 and Recommended-2. Recommended-1 is for stories that portray autistic characters well, regardless of the neurotype of the author. Recommended-2 is for good stories by autistic authors that don’t explicitly have autism in them. As it happens, most Recommended-2 stories still have strong diversity and disability themes, and/or themes like forced normalization, social pressure, etc which will be very meaningful to a majority of autistic readers. I still strongly support people seeking out and reading Recommended-2 stories, and I may even be expanding the range of short stories and poems that I consider for this category.

For the moment, the YMMV and Not Recommended categories will not be separated in this way, simply because the number of stories affected would be vanishingly small.

(Speaking of which, I am still – always – taking recommendations for short fiction and poetry to review, especially by authors I haven’t reviewed yet. Book recs will be noted, too, but they take a lot longer to get to.)