At the moment I feel like I am regularly starting my reviews with a confession. But here is another one for you. I rarely read YA books. But when I was asked to take part in the Bookstagram Tour for Anna by Laura Guthrie published by Cranachan Books I felt I should make an exception
Anna is the story of a teenage girl who has recently lost her Father. We meet her as she is travelling alone by coach from London to Scotland to begin a new life with her reclusive Mother. A mother she has had no contact with since she was a baby.
The thing that really drew me to this book was the fact that Anna, our grieving teenage protagonist, has Asperger’s Syndrome. A good deal of my professional life involves working with young people like Anna, and I am constantly searching for authentic and positive representations of ‘Aspie’ characters in literature.
I am delighted to report back that Anna does not disappoint. Anna is grieving, her Father has been her ‘go-to guide’ through a complex and sometimes hard to read neurotypical world. He has been her protector and her champion. With the help of some clued up outreach workers, her Father has helped Anna negotiate the mine field of social constructs and constraints. He has given her coping strategies, such as her ‘Happy Game’. He has nurtured her talents, home educated her and given her a sense of purpose and well being. And now, suddenly, he is gone.
In his place is her Mother, Patty. Reclusive, vulnerable and scared, her Mother seems barely capable of looking after herself let alone a grieving teenager whose world has been turned upside down. Patty is remote and, at first, borderline neglectful. Anna works hard to fit into her Mother’s world but everywhere she looks she seems to find mysteries and closed doors. Who for example is the Skeleton Man, and why is her mother so wary of him? Why won’t her mum register at the local GP? What does Ben know that her Mum doesn’t want Anna to find out? There is so much that Anna cannot understand.
Slowly barriers begin to come down and the relationship between mother and daughter begins to grow. However Anna finds that this relationship might impinge on her memories of and cherished beliefs surrounding her Father. How can she reconcile the things she is learning and the very different life she is now beginning to enjoy? Will there be a happy ending for Anna? And if so what will be the cost of that happiness?
As I had hoped when I seized upon this book it’s strength lies in the presentation of Anna. There is an overwhelming truth and an honesty to her narrative but also a vulnerability. Anna can’t possibly have all the answers to the strange and raw situation she finds herself in. No teenager could be expected to. And yet Anna’s condition has somehow forced her to be more self aware and more analytical.
There is a crazy but often repeated misconception that Autistic individuals don’t feel or express emotions . This is ridiculous of course; individuals in this situation may struggle with standard forms of expression but they feel everything just as deeply. Imagined for a second how hard negotiating this whole new world of grief, change and new relationships would be, when you don’t fully grasp the rules, when the implied social niceties are impossible to read. It is this Laura Guthrie has encapsulated and portrayed beautifully.
Like many young people with an Asperger’s diagnosis Anna struggles with change, and for this reason Anna clings to the familiar. She is, for example, drawn to the outcast Jamie, a foster child, on the edges of the world they have both found themselves in.
It was a great sense of joy to myself as a reader that I found a balanced and positive portrait of Asperger’s Syndrome within the character of Anna. Take for example her eye for detail, her ability to pick apart a situation with fresh perspective and inject a simple enthusiasm missing for so long in her mothers life.
Or her ability to think laterally and logically about a problem. Making soup for an elderly neighbour, bringing someone a kindness when the rest of the world has forgotten to see beyond their pain.
Anna is a novel filled with joy and hope. It is a story of light and shade but at it’s heart it celebrates what we all need in our lives; a little bit of diversity and a lot of kindness.
And there is more…
For the rest of the Anna Bookstagram Tour look no further …