CM . . . . Volume XVII Number 21. . . .February 4, 2011.
Waiting for No One.
Markham, ON: Red Deer Press, 2010.
187 pp., pbk., $12.95.
Asperger's syndrome -Jevnile fiction.
Grades 8 and up / Ages 13 and up.
Review by Kristin Butcher.
In 2005, Beverley Brenna published Wild Orchid and introduced readers to Taylor Jane Simon, an 18-year-old girl with Asperger Syndrome.
“People are always waiting,” I tell him. “I am waiting to turn nineteen, but after that I will be waiting to turn twenty. I am also waiting to get a job. The manager of the bookstore is waiting for me to call her back. Mom is waiting for me to come home. I'm not sure what you are waiting for, but everyone's waiting for something. And you shouldn't wait by yourself if you have a choice.”
Though people with this condition generally have average or above average intelligence, they encounter difficulties because their brains are unable to process information in the usual way. This inability manifests itself in autistic-like behaviour. Those with Asperger Syndrome avoid eye contact and physical touch. They have poorly developed social skills. They have difficulty with language idioms and can become fixated on particular words or numbers. They are sensitive to light, colour and the texture of food. They can be obsessive as well as compulsive. They are comforted by routine and terrified by the unknown. (This paragraph is taken directly from my review of Wild Orchid, but I believe the information it contains bears repeating here.)
These days, it is fairly common for writers to focus on characters with physical, mental, or emotional difficulties, and so, in that sense, Wild Orchid wasn't terribly unique. The thing that elevated it above other books of the same vein was that the story was narrated in first person by Taylor. To capture the voice of a person with Asperger Syndrome and still tell a meaningful tale is indeed a laudable feat, and Brenna carried it off beautifully. The book went on to win much acclaim.
Now Taylor is back in Brenna's newest YA novel titled Waiting for No One. In this offering, Brenna picks up Taylor's life right where it left off. Summer is over, and Taylor is trying to find her place in an adult world. She is taking a biology course at university, and she has applied for a job at the local bookstore. She has a solo bus trip planned to Cody, Wyoming, to visit her father at Thanksgiving, and she is taking dancing lessons at the local community club. All of these activities force Taylor to be independent and step out of her comfort zone, things that are very difficult for someone with Asperger Syndrome to do. Though she tries hard, Taylor isn't always successful. When she gets upset, she becomes obsessive-compulsive, cleaning everything in sight over and over again. She recognizes her flaws, but that doesn't keep her “IQ from dropping” (an expression she uses when she knows she is acting inappropriately), and it doesn't stop her from swearing and letting her voice climb into the “red zone”.
Though Taylor is most comfortable keeping her distance from people, she is befriended by another student in her biology class, Luke Phoenix. Luke lives with his father and 12-year-old brother, Martin, who suffers with cerebral palsy. Luke’s own experience living with someone with an affliction makes Luke more tolerant or perhaps just more insightful. At any rate, he accepts Taylor and her quirky habits without question and encourages her to stretch and grow, which she does. It is, in fact, Taylor, who suggests that swear words be added to Martin's VOCA, a machine that speaks for him. Taylor points out that, though swear words can be misused (an issue she has difficulty with herself), Martin has the right to learn to use them appropriately, just like everyone else.
Waiting for No One is not merely a continuation of Wild Orchid. It is the beginning of a metamorphosis. As Taylor grows into a young woman, sher is beginning to see and understand how she is different from other people, and she is starting to develop strategies to help her fit in, because fit in she must if she hopes to be independent. If she can't hold a job, she will have to continue living with her mother, and she doesn't want that.
I expect that this book will be received just as well as the prequel was. My only criticism relates to the depth of understanding exhibited by all the people with whom Taylor has dealings. Luke, her father's girlfriend, the biology prof, the manager of the bookstore, the psychologist, the people at her dance class—they all treat Taylor with dignity and compassion. Though I would love to think that is the norm, I'm afraid I'm more cynical, and I can't help thinking that Taylor must have some negative run-ins from time to time. The only hint of that is her memories of being mistreated as a child.
And apparently that is where Brenna plans to take readers in her third book about Taylor. It will pick up Taylor's current life and circle back to her childhood and the bullying she endured at that time.
Kristin Butcher is a writer who lives in Campbell River, BC.
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