Normally I don’t write book reviews on this blog, but in this case, I feel obligated to thanks to a book I just finished today. What To Say Next by Julie Buxbaum, released on July 11, 2017, is a YA novel about a teenage boy with Asperger’s (the book specifically uses the word too) named David and a ‘neurotypical’ girl named Kit meeting each other and forming a special bond. Together, they try to learn all the details surrounding the car accident that killed Kit’s dad in the hopes that Kit can reach a greater sense of closure.
Going in at first, I had no idea either of the characters were going to be autistic, so I was caught off guard pretty quickly by David’s POV, taking into account his heavily analytical way of seeing everything around him, and how he records his observations in his notebook. He is an incredibly intelligent young man with all the skills he needs to be at the top of his class, also possessing a heavy reliance on math to answer all of his questions. These are all good things except for one problem: while he succeeds in numbers and analysis, his greatest weakness lies in social interaction. He fails to understand or be able to pick up on social queues. Emotions are difficult for him to comprehend or be able to handle on his own. That all being said, making friends is nearly impossible for him, which even leads him to say that his own sister is his ‘best friend’ because she’s the only person who will really listen to him and hear him out, giving him the best advice she can in turn.
While David ended up being the main draw for me (this isn’t to say that Kit was a bad character by any means), this book is told through two different perspectives: David’s and Kit’s. This creates an intriguing structure for the story because not only do we get to see a story unfold through the eyes of someone on the autism spectrum, we get to see it through the eyes of someone who’s ‘normal’, which means we see a normal person’s reactions to the actions of someone with autism–and boy do we ever.
David’s personality, social experiences, and overall worldview not only reminded me of myself but also multiple people on the spectrum I’ve met and known. This book does an excellent job giving us a character who feels believable when it comes to autism, rather than just giving us a stereotype that ends up negatively affecting people’s thoughts on the subject. Some of the things that David says in this book hit very close to home for me, and in some cases even made me laugh, not because I like mocking people like him, but because it’s refreshing to read about someone who’s like me in a lot of ways. I felt sympathy for him when he was getting bullied, I was happy for him when he succeeded in his goals, and I rooted for him when he struggled with emotions that he didn’t know how to deal with.
At first glance, it would seem inevitable that this is a YA romance and that David will win the girl in the end. Fictional stories about young people on the spectrum finding love seems to be something fairly new springing up in our entertainment like the Netflix Original series Atypical, or in real life cases, the documentary Autism In Love (another thing you can find on Netflix). I’m happy to say that while romance is indeed something you’ll find in this book, it’s hardly the focus. It is ultimately a story about a boy on the spectrum trying to maintain and hold together a friendship, which can be hard enough without romance in the mix. This book deals with other themes such as loss and regret, both of which are handled effectively.
I highly recommend this book to anyone, not just because of the insight it provides for both sides of the coin when it comes to autism, but also because it’s just a really well-written story with a few great plot twists weaved in to keep you reading.