A KIND OF SPARK by Elle McNicoll
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I received an Advance Reader Copy of this book from the publisher in order to write this review.
Addie’s school year is off to a bad start. Her teacher accuses her of being sloppy and lazy and tears up her story in front of the entire class. Addie’s older sister warned her about this teacher–about how she doesn’t like autistic kids–but Addie had hoped it wasn’t true. Making matters worse, Addie’s old best friend has stopped hanging out with her and is instead spending time with the class bully who has it out for Addie.
And then Addie learns about the witches.
They weren’t really witches. They were just women who were different–like Addie–but the people in their Scottish town killed them for it. Addie knows it isn’t right that nothing has been done to apologize to these women and honor them, so she starts a campaign to build a memorial for them. Because maybe if she can make her town care about this injustice of the past, they might start to realize that “different” people aren’t as scary or dangerous as people seem to think.
From the feeling of electricity that comes with sensory overload to the exhaustion of masking to the sense of pride and identity and unique strengths of being autistic–this middle grade novel captures the reality of one autistic girl’s voice in a way that was entirely relatable to me as an autistic reader–and (I believe) accessible to neurotypical readers as well. Although it is in many ways a book about what it is like to be autistic, it is never overly explanatory, making it as much a story for autistic children as about them. I felt an enormous sense of connection with this text–I felt seen–and I’m an adult; I can only imagine that the experience is more poignant for those neurodivergent readers at the same stage of life as the protagonist. Add to this wonderful autistic representation the compelling plot, horrifying villain (the bullying teacher), and underdog heroine you can’t help but fall in love with, and you have a perfect title for any middle grade contemporary collection or book club. I’m so glad this novel finally made it over to the US. I highly recommend it!