I’ve been reading a couple of books recently which have, as part of their plot, a look at what it is like to be someone who is ‘different’. They certainly made me realise that aspects of life which we take for granted can be much harder for some…
It’s not easy being 16 years old. It’s not easy dealing with your own problems, let alone those of your parents, and it is especially hard if you also have to deal with living with Tourette’s. Dylan Mint has an absent father, a confusing mother, a crush on a girl from school and, on the plus side, a really supportive best mate. He also, in the opening chapter, discovers that he only has months to live.
When Mr Dog Bites by Brian Conaghan looks at Dylan’s short, but rather pithy, bucket list and also at his relationships, particularly the one with his mother. We often have preconceptions about young people, and about those with disabilities: this book is like having those preconceptions stripped away and a rather refreshingly real boy is revealed. This is, of course, not the only revelation in the story – we are the adults so we should understand so much more than Dylan does. But because we hear the story in his voice we find out the hard truths along with him.
Interestingly I have seen reviews of this novel which consider that Dylan is not a realistic sixteen year old – that he seems far younger, particularly emotionally. I would say, from my own experience with kids his age that Brian Conaghan has portrayed his character pretty accurately. Yes, some young people would be much more mature, but many are not – nothing to do with intelligence or even disability – and we do teenagers a further injustice if we forget that many of them are also still kids.
It then struck me, on reading The Rosie Project by Graeme Simsion, that things don’t necessarily get much easier for many adults. Our hero, Don Tillman, is an academic, a geneticist with a good job, and his health. But he decides that what he is missing is someone to share his life with (because married men, statistically, live longer) and, in what you soon realise is typical Don style, he decides to find Ms. Right by means of a detailed questionnaire. You can’t fault his logic – this scientific approach is one he uses in every other area of his life (on busy days I can really see the benefits of the Standardised Meal System…). Why should finding a compatible partner be any different?
I won’t give away the plot – there are some things which only Don himself can tell – but I will say I loved this book. It is very funny and, in the end, a love story but it is also a beautiful insight into what life is like for a man who probably has Asperger’s. I went to a talk that the author gave in Leeds recently and we, as a group, had quite an interesting discussion about how hard it is to diagnose in adults – who have usually developed all kinds of coping mechanisms – and how foolish it seems to say that ‘people with Asperger’s do such and such’. I guess the best and most positive message I got from the book was that anyone can find love – even with a very imperfect partner.
The Rosie Project started life as a screenplay and the author tells us that Hollywood is interested in making the film – it is one that I will look forward to, I’m just not sure who I would cast as Don….