83 pages • 2 hours readNora Raleigh Baskin
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Nora Raleigh Baskin won the Schneider Family Book Award for the young adult novel Anything But Typical, published in 2009. Anything But Typical tells the first-person fictional story of a 12-year-old boy diagnosed with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Jason Blake struggles with adolescence in the same ways most 12-year-old boys do, but his disorder makes it more difficult for him to verbally express his experience. Instead, he turns to writing to share his inner world, explaining that he chose this style because he wants to tell his story in a language that neurotypical people will understand. Jason is passionate about language, often experiencing the world through words first; his writing shows him to be an empathetic and deeply emotional young man.
This guide refers to the Kindle edition.
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The story begins as Jason starts sixth grade, and is attempting mainstream public school for the first time. Until now, since his diagnosis of Autism Spectrum Disorder in the third grade, he has had a one-on-one aide.
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Jason struggles every day with the overstimulating environment of the school, working closely with physical and speech therapists that help him cope with his autism. He describes having difficulty reading other people’s facial expressions, recognizing faces, and keeping his anger under control. When he reaches his threshold of stress, he can become violent and destructive, or flap his hands, blink his eyes, and rock back and forth in a way that makes his classmates uncomfortable. Jason is painfully aware of how much his classmates dislike him, but he is resilient. He tries to fit in with the neurotypicals, as he calls them, mostly to please his parents.
Jason’s mother and father are devoted and patient. They create a safe space for him in their home and he loves them deeply. He also loves his little brother Jeremy. They get along well. Jeremy likes to ask Jason to read him books.
Jason’s favorite hobby is writing. He posts his stories to a website called Storyboard. One day, Jason receives a compliment from another Storyboard user called PhoenixBird for his story about a little person named Bennu faced with the dilemma of whether to have a surgery that will make him normal height. As they exchange stories and messages, Jason wonders if PhoenixBird, or Rebecca, could actually become his girlfriend. Their online relationship gives Jason something to be excited about and helps his performance and behavior at school.
Jason’s parents surprise him with a trip to an upcoming Storyboard convention in Texas. When Jason realizes that Rebecca will be at the conference, he is devastated: He is terrified that if Rebecca sees him in person, she will be disgusted. He loses all interest in writing and spirals into a shame-filled depression, getting into trouble at school and with family.
Shortly after Jason and his mother get to Texas, they run into Rebecca. She was excited to meet Jason, but, just as he feared, she is shocked that the boy she has been messaging with has autism, and she is not interested in spending time with him. Jason is devastated and decides he will never write again. However, his writing teacher, a little person like Bennu, inspires Jason to continue writing. At the end of the conference, Rebecca tells Jason that she hopes they can continue their online friendship.
On their flight home, Jason’s mother expresses gratitude for their trip and says that she learned more in that weekend than she has in years. Jason finishes his story, choosing to end with Bennu rejecting the surgery and accepting himself just as he is. This is where the novel ends as well, implying that Jason too is on the path toward self-acceptance.