Today’s Book: “Love/Hate” by L.C. Mawson
The Plot: An autistic teenager is recruited to a superhero team where everyone’s powers are based on emotion. Her power is Love – but she has a serious crush on another superhero her age, whose power is Hate. Since they are opposites, if they get together, they risk cancelling each other’s powers out. Can they make it work? And can they defend their city from monsters?
Autistic Character(s): Claire, the main character; as well as several minor characters, and the author.
This is just an adorable book. Maybe that is a condescending adjective? But it is the most accurate one for my feelings about what I just read. It’s fluffy and frothy and sweet, in spite of the level of violence and danger that can be expected in a superhero story. Love and Hate are both adorable. Their teammates are adorable. I don’t know what to say.
In terms of autism representation, Claire is a well-drawn character; her autistic traits inform the story through many little details – from her stimming and sensory reactions, to her attitude to schoolwork that doesn’t tie in to her interests, to her small worries about how her words are being interpreted in a conversation, to the way she responds mentally and verbally when overwhelmed. These details are constantly present without ever overwhelming the narrative.
One of the most interesting character details in the story has to do with the relationship between a superhero’s personality and their powers. A hero has to actually feel the appropriate emotion in order for their powers to work, and for some of them, this proves a challenge. Claire is selected for the role of Love through a process that she doesn’t control, and she struggles to believe she is the right person for the job. This might become tiresome quickly if her reason for struggling was her autism, but Mawson takes a different tack. Claire is an orphan, with no memories of her family and no other particularly close relationships, and she doesn’t think of herself as being especially good at giving or receiving love. It takes time for her to get a sense of how suited she really is for the role.
Although Claire’s romantic tension with Hate is a big part of the book, her discovery of her powers doesn’t revolve only around the romance arc. Instead her moments of greatest power come when she is trying to protect people she cares about, including Hate but also many other friends and people on her team. Claire’s capacity for fierce protectiveness, and for empathy in unexpected directions – even towards some of the monsters she’s fighting! – really comes through on the page. It’s a lot of fun to watch an autistic character discover these capacities within herself, and it’s even more fun because autism isn’t explicitly presented as a major obstacle to this process. It’s simply another part of Claire, and another one of many reasons why her way of embracing Love’s role won’t necessarily look the way she expects it to.
Nor is Claire the only one whose way of fitting her role is unexpected. The previous Love on the team, who died shortly before Claire arrived, was an abuse survivor who took a long time to accept that there was anything good or loving about her. Serenity is still grieving the loss of the previous Love, and has to constantly fight to access the calm that usually powers her. Loneliness, most amusingly, is an incredibly hot girl, and Claire struggles to understand how she could ever feel lonely – until Loneliness explains that she is autistic, too.
Mawson also has a fun, breezy way of dealing with the people whose powers involve a more difficult emotion, without demonizing them for having it:
Hate let out a bark of laughter. “I swear, I don’t brood that much. Just enough to keep my power level up.”
“Your power level?”
“Yeah. I am the literal embodiment of Hate, so my power works better when I hate stuff.”
She shrugged. “When I was younger, I used myself as a target a lot. Then Empathy practically pleaded with me to stop a couple of years ago. Now I just fixate on small annoyances. Currently, I hate the local burger place for not selling mozzarella sticks all of the time.”
Did I mention Hate is adorable? Hate is adorable. She is Korean and has ADHD and paints and wears a leather jacket. I would love to see more autistic-ADHD relationships in fiction and I really did root for her and Claire the whole way through.
Anyway, this book is very non-neurotypical and this book is really fun. If you want some cute, sweet, sapphic YA superheroes in your life, you should check it out.
The Verdict: Recommended-1
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