Autistic Book Party, Episode 57: No Child Left Behind

Today’s Book: “No Child Left Behind” by Claudia Casser

The Plot: A visitor from a parellel universe creates a prep school for neurodivergent Earth teenagers and refugee teens from his home world.

Autistic Character(s): The author; Geoff, the main viewpoint character, is also a teen with ADHD.

This is a book that has some cool ideas, but that I really struggled to get into because of the writing style. It’s a book whose early chapters seem to flit from thought to thought without much sense of context, stakes, or how it feels to be the various POV characters.

I do like some aspects of the way Geoff is written. The way his mind races is very realistic for a teen with ADHD. For instance, here’s an excerpt from when one of the characters explains to him that people from their universe have electromagnetism-related psychic powers:

Holy cow. Holy cow squared. You could do a lot of stuff with electromagnetic bursts.

You could fry pacemakers and memory beads. Could you fry cell phones? I shoved mine deeper into the back pocket of my jeans. Could you fry neurons? Had Lord Kemp fried my Mom’s neurons when he shook her hand? Is that why she was letting me sleep over? How could I stop them from frying my neurons? Could I find something to fry their neurons if they tried to fry mine? My foot was tapping like crazy.

But this excerpt also exemplifies what I found frustrating, because before any of these questions is addressed or before Geoff can make up his mind to do anything about them, another topic comes up and distracts everyone. This is fairly typical of how exposition and character interactions are handled throughout the part of the book that I read.

It’s also not solely a feature of how Geoff is characterized. An adult from the other universe named Lord Kemp, also has POV time; the style in his chapters is very similar to Geoff’s style. He says and does zany things, and it’s vaguely shown what his motivations are (he wants to build a school on his estate and doesn’t understand why zoning laws prohibit this), but the scene still kind of flits around without much context or illustration of what he’s sensing or feeling, or why he reacts the way he does.

I mentioned a long time ago, in my review of “Kea’s Flight,” how modes of communication that are natural for non-neurotypical people – like, in that case, infodumping – are sometimes classified as bad writing by neurotypicals. It can be worthwhile to push past that initial impression to understand what that communication style means for the characters. (I’ve reviewed other books in which I felt that long infodumps worked particularly well for building the characters, including “2312” and “Experimental Film.“) I feel bad that I couldn’t follow that advice with “No Child Left Behind.” For a reader with ADHD the aimless flitting around might feel exhilarating and relatable. It just happens to be something that I personally bounced off of pretty hard, and that made it a struggle for me to keep reading or to emotionally invest.

After I reviewed the very triggery “Mirror Project,” I decided to make a rule that I was allowed to DNF (did not finish) Autistic Book Party books if I wanted to. (I had also previously DNFed “Dance For The Ivory Madonna,” which was not triggery but just very badly written.) “No Child Left Behind” isn’t full of triggers, and it isn’t entirely bad the way “Dance For The Ivory Madonna” was. But it’s not working for me, and in the interests of getting to other autistic books in a reasonable timeframe, I’m going to put it down.

DNFed in chapter 6.

The Verdict: YMMV, but I didn’t like it

Disclosure: I read this book because Claudia Casser offered me a free review copy. This is the only interaction I have had with the author.

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