Quick: how many books have you read where the main character has autism or autism spectrum disorder?
Now: how many of those books were written by an author who openly speaks about their own autism spectrum disorder?
For me, I realized that while I could come up with a few titles answering the former question, I couldn’t think of one answering the latter. Then I was lucky enough to read the essay Lyn Miller-Lachmann wrote for Young Adult Review Network (YARN) talking about the origins of her book Rogue and her own experiences having Asperger’s Syndrome. This is an amazing piece that helps really personalize what it feels like to have Asperger’s and looks at Miller-Lachmann’s decision to write a book featuring a character that also has this disorder.
That character is the unforgettable Kiara Thorton-Delgado, an eighth grader with Asperger’s who yearns for people to understand her and genuinely tries to connect with them. Rogue opens with Kiara determined that her new next door neighbor Chad, unlike all the other new kids who quickly reject her, will become and remain her friend. But Chad is from a seriously troubled home, so her focus on becoming part of his world leads to more complicated situations that she originally bet on. But Kiara is convinced this is her chance to have a friend and to belong. Now, however, she’ll have to figure out what “being a friend” actually means and if she really is prepared for it.
This sounds like a trite premise, I know, but Miller-Lachmann takes the story to a thousand interesting and new places because of her deep understanding of Kiara. Here’s the thing: I have just described to you a universal premise, a familiar story. But when the character in this familiar story has Asperger’s, suddenly we are hearing a voice we have never heard before and seeing things we have not seen before. It does not make this story less universal; instead, it turns Kiara’s struggles, complete with her Asperger’s, into something universal. There’s something both epic and accessible about this, something that can’t be discounted. This is why good writing about disability matters, this is why diversity in our characters counts – when the writing is as good as Miller-Lachmann’s is here it reminds us (and helps younger readers see) that characters with disability are part of universal stories too.
Kiara’s universal story is the heart and soul of Rogue. Rogue wasn’t just a book I genuinely loved and enthusiastically recommend for advanced middle grade readers it was also a book I felt like (and this part is really important to me) I’d never read before. It felt new, fresh, and challenging.
I adore the way Kiara learns to shine using her own set of strengths and abilities. Kiara is often toting around a camera and filming things: she uses this as a way to cope with her Asperger’s but also discovers it can be a way to share her vision with people. Rogue is the story of how Kiara tries to fit in and, more than that, it’s the story of how she figures out what “fitting in” really means and is really worth. I love this. I love that this is a story about finding “your people” by finding yourself and I love that this is also a story about accepting that “fitting in” might not be possible for everyone, not just because of disability, but because of their own personalities and beliefs. This is BIG THOUGHT stuff for middle grade, which as most of you know, is the exact thing I think middle grade should be tackling.
Now for a bit about the title: Rogue, of course, has multiple meanings. One of the main ones, however, is Kiara’s love for the superhero Rogue, a member of the X-Men. Rogue, of course, is the mutant who cannot touch people because she saps their powers with contact. Kiara finds real resonance in Rogue’s literal inability to connect and another thing I love about this book is that Miller-Lachmann takes this seriously. I LOVE books that treat fandom as an important and maybe even life-saving element of people’s existence. Yes – that’s what it can be like. Not nerds, not haha how socially inept, but the joy of finding connection and recognition in a fictional world … Miller-Lachmann completely nails how that’s special, how that can mean so much. Kiara knows it, knows the way she feels about Rogue, knows what it means to see herself in her.
Though Kiara is an eighth grader, Rogue is definitely on the higher end of middle-grade and actually acts as a good bridge read to young adult fiction. I highly recommend it for grades 6-9 and particularly for readers who are drawn to stories of outsiders. There are some really intense topics covered in the book (Kiara’s fractured family and, especially, Chad’s familial situation) and Miller-Lachmann is honest and frank about Kiara’s anger and her struggles, complete with setbacks and outbursts. Kiara isn’t always the most likable character and yet you, as a reader, are still drawn to her. You want to know more about her story and, well, you’re rooting for her. You feel the universality in Kiara’s story and yet you know her personally. That’s what makes her story fly and that’s what makes her story stick.
Thanks to Lyn Miller-Lachmann’s awesome kindness, you have a chance to win an autographed copy of Rogue! All you have to do is leave a comment on this post by Tuesday, July 2 and I’ll choose a random winner. If you don’t win, Rogue is on sale now. If you can’t buy a copy, check one out from your local library. If they don’t have it, request they add it to their collection.
(NOTE: I reviewed this title from an ARC Lyn sent me and I volunteered to host this giveaway on my site because I loved it so much. A few years ago, I was lucky enough to meet Lyn at ALA at a super-cool YALSA event for small publishers. She was there promoting her amazing book Gringolandia, which is STILL on my Best Books for High School Readers list. Talk about an original, daring, and insightful young adult titles – Gringolandia is all that and more. If you haven’t read it, go get it right now!)