272pp., graphic novel, RRP $A39.99
Twelve-year-old Mia is just trying to navigate a world that doesn’t understand her true autistic self. Mia would be happy to just be herself, stims and all, but the other students have trouble understanding her and even bully her, while her mother is full of strategies to help her attempt to mask her autism. Although she wishes she could stand up to her bullies, she’s always been able to express her feelings through singing and songwriting, even more so with her best friend, Charlie, who is nonbinary, putting together the best beats for her.
Together, they’ve taken the internet by storm; little do Mia’s classmates know that she’s the viral singer Elle-Q! Ironically, one of her biggest fans is also one of her biggest real-life bullies, Laura. But while the chance to perform live for a local talent show has Charlie excited, Mia isn’t so sure.
She’ll have to decide whether she’ll let her worries about what other people think get in the way of not only her friendship with Charlie, but also showing everyone, including the bullies, who she is and what she has to say. Though she may struggle with some of her emotions, Mia does not suffer because of her autism. Rather than a cure as though there is something about her that needs to be fixed, she just wants acceptance, understanding and tolerance, just like the other characters who have other issues that drive their behaviour.
For older, independent readers this is a graphic novel by an autistic author/illustrator offering a sympathetic depiction of one young person’s experience of autism, and because it is by one on the spectrum it is an authentic voice giving an insight into what it is like to be different at a time when peer acceptance is so important to who we are.