It is so refreshing to see a wave of ‘real voices’ titles appearing in the middle grade category. Interesting and often challenging stories told from an authentic viewpoint. In this case, we get to read about Addie, an autistic girl, written by neurodivergent author, Elle McNicoll.
Addie has been having a tough time recently. Her class teacher is a bully, her best friend doesn’t seem to want to be friends anymore, and something’s not right with her big sister, Keedie. The situation’s made even more difficult by the fact that Addie is autistic so can’t always read people’s expressions or express herself as well as she’d like to.
There’s a glimmer of hope when the new girl, Audrey, wants to be friends and seems to share Addie’s recent interest in the witchcraft trials held in the village of Juniper (near Edinburgh) where she lives. Hearing about the injustice suffered by these women who were often unable to stand up for themselves, sparked something in Addie. She had to find a way to say sorry for what her community had done. But who’d want to listen to someone like her…?
This is an insightful and compelling read which had me rooting for Addie from the start. Seeing the world through Addie’s eyes brought home to me just how challenging it must be for neurodivergent people to get through the day trying to behave in a way that’s considered socially acceptable – no stimming, no meltdowns, making eye contact when you talk to someone.
The way her mind sparked in several different directions and once, making it difficult for her to focus on the task in hand also resonated – it reminded me of several neurodivergent pupils I’ve worked with over the years. The insatiable thirst for knowledge about topics of intense fascination, and the reassurance provided by being able to find out about them, was also interesting to me as an educator – what provision do we make for any of our pupils to follow their interests and explore passions? Is this something we need to try and make more time for?
My heart broke at points when I read of Miss Murphy’s terrible (and wilful) misunderstanding of Addie’s autism. The refusal to accept that Addie’s difficulties and behaviours were caused by nothing more than sheer laziness was deeply uncomfortable to read. And that is why books like this are so important. Not only is ‘A Kind of Spark’ a clever and fantastic read, it also allows neurotypical people greater insight into a day in the life of a neurodivergent one, and (crucially) allows autistic readers to see themselves represented in what is an ultimately positive way in a mainstream middle grade title.
I would urge all educators, anyone who knows or works with autistic children, and anyone who enjoys a powerful story, to read this book! 9+
*Many thanks to Knights Of for sending me this title to review. Make sure you visit some of the other stops on the blog tour too*