One of the behaviors for my list on knowing myself as a reader was that I judge books by their covers. I know, this is probably making me miss out on some good books because I dismiss their plain cover as boring. It’s the truth though. Colorful and interesting book covers make me want to read the book that much more. I will probably discourage my students from judging books by their covers. However, if interesting book covers make them interesting in reading that book, well, at least they are interested in a book when sometimes they would rather just not have to pick up a book. As I was searching through the YA section of the library, the cover of Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin jumped out at me. The cover is a silhouette of a boy’s head with swirly doodles exploding out of it. I liked it right away.
The next thing I look at is the short description of the story on the back; this is what really made me want to read Anything but Typical. The back cover which is actually an excerpt from the book reads, “Neurotypicals like it when you look them in the eye. Just because you are not looking at someone does not mean you are not listening. I can listen better when I am not distracted by a person’s face: What are they saying? Is that a frown or a smile? Why are they wrinkling their forehead or lifting their cheeks like that? What does it mean? How can you listen to the words when you have to think about all that stuff?” First of all, neurotypicals is a way better word than the word we often use: “normal.” What does normal mean? Normal is one of those qualifying words that takes away the details of an individual, and the fact that every single person is different. I hate these qualifying words that we use over and over again in school settings: normal, good, bad, smart, etc.
Anything but Typical is written from the point of view of Jason Blake. Jason is not what most would call “normal.” Jason is autistic. He is not great at social interacts. He does not always answer when people talk to him, and he does not look people in the eyes when they talk to them. Sometimes his hands flap without him even realizing it. Sometimes he pulls his hair because he feels like his head is trying to fly away when he is uncomfortable. Like a lot of teenage boys, he has a problem with his anger. Through working with his occupational therapist, he has learned to control his anger and deal with his anxiety in social situations. Jason has an affinity for writing. He has an amazing vocabulary; he could spell words adults can’t spell at the age of four. He wakes up with unusual words stuck in his head. Jason’s parents think he is a genius, and (for some reason) they lose that idea when he is tested and labeled autistic in the third grade. Jason is a genius though, just in a different way than we would typically label it. He is gifted with words and writing.
Jason writes on an online forum called storyboard; he never gets many responses, but he does it because he likes it. One day, he gets a comment of praise on one of his stories by a user named phoenixbird. Thinking that he has no hopes of having a girlfriend like a neurotypical, he is thrilled to discover that phoenixbird is a girl named Rebecca. He discovers that his parents have bought him a trip to a storyboard convention in Dallas. Jason is super excited about it until he finds out Rebecca will be there; he is certain she will no longer like him once she learns he is autistic because that is his previous experience with girls. Rebecca is thrown off by Jason’s autism, and Jason vows never to write again. He says since he is not neurotypical, he just can’t do things: he doesn’t go to birthday parties, play baseball, and now he won’t write anymore.
An amazing thing happens at one of the workshops at the convention that he only goes to to make his mother happy. The speaker says, “All we are, all we can be are the stories we tell…Long after we are gone, our words will be all that is left, and who is to say what really happened or even what reality is? Our stories, our fiction, our words will be as close to the truth as can be. And no one can take that away from you” (Baskin 187). Jason realizes that he does not write for Rebecca or for anyone else. He realizes that he writes for himself because he enjoys writing; he writes because he is a great writer.
I loved reading this book. It gave me a point of view that I have not encountered in another book. It reiterated to me what I already knew: normal does not exist. No one fits all the way into our concept of normal. Every person, every student, is different; they have different strengths and different weaknesses.