This was first posted on elizabethannewrites on April 8, 2011.
I’m tying this post to Patricia’s post earlier regarding Autism Awareness Month — I hope you’ll read Pat’s thoughtful and thought-provoking post.
My cousin, Bev Brenna, who writes thoughtful and thought-provoking YA books (as well as middle-grade novels, and picture books — Bev is versatile) has written two YA novels about a girl in her late teens, Taylor Jane Simon, who deals with Asperger’s Syndrome. Asperger’s is a condition on the autism scale, but is not the same as high-functioning autism.
Wild Orchid, the first of these books, takes place the summer after Taylor has graduated from high school. It is set in Waskesiu, Saskatchewan, Canada, a setting that Bev knows well as her family spent time there every summer as Bev was growing up. Bev’s love of, and understanding of the natural world are evident in Taylor’s keen interest in wildflowers, and wild orchids in particular. The rare, elusive wild orchids that Taylor hunts for almost obsessively perfectly symbolize Taylor herself.
The book is written in the first person, which takes the reader more deeply into Taylor’s world, her ways of thinking, her frustrations, her misunderstandings, than even the most observant narrator ever could. The book is written as Taylor’s journal — her Grade Twelve English teacher suggested that she write in a journal in order to “let off steam” — a phrase that had to be explained, since Taylor takes all such phrases literally. In her journal, she describes her experiences and her reactions, and Bev has written this so skillfully that one really feels as if they are seeing into the mind of a person with Asperger’s. It’s a powerful — and rather unsettling — experience. Through Taylor’s journal, we experience her summer in Waskesiu along with her, feel her dislike of her mother’s boyfriend, learn the difficulties of navigating what seem “ordinary” social situations, see what it’s like to have one’s first job when one has Asperger’s. By the end of the summer, Taylor has learned many things, and so have we. I highly recommend this book.
Wild Orchid used to be my favorite of Bev’s books… until I read the sequel, Waiting for No One, this week. It blew me away. It is even more powerfully written than was Wild Orchid, again in first person, taking the reader even further into Taylor’s mind and world.
Waiting for No One is set just after Taylor and her mother return home after the summer in Waskesiu. It is written as if Taylor herself is writing a book about her experiences. Taylor attempts to find a job, which is complicated by her way of reacting to situations. We get a deeper look into the difficulties she faces, in contrast with her obvious intelligence. She tries to cope with things in a more and more obsessive/compulsive manner, which complicates her life even further. It is an intense experience to go through this with Taylor. Taylor also copes by interacting with her pet gerbil, Harold Pinter — pets can do so much for us (I remember pouring out my teenage troubles to my very understanding cats).
One shouldn’t think that these books are heavy and tragic, however, despite the fact that they are intense. There are numerous humorous situations, some quite inadvertent. I know my writer friends would enjoy, as I did, the chapter that was half a page long, followed by a chapter entitled “This is My Book and the Chapters Can Be Just As Long As I Want”. I like that. A lot.
At the back of Waiting for No One, there is a Question&Answer session with Bev that I found very interesting and enlightening — and I was delighted to read in it that she’s started work on the third book about Taylor.
I highly recommend both books (and not just because Bev is my cousin!) And now I guess I have TWO books of Bev’s that are my favorites.