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Heteronormative, elitist fantasy fiction

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Reviewed: 29-04-2020

Despite a commendable sense of comic timing that elicited a number of genuine laughs, this book fails to depict the experience of the majority of people with autism. Too many subsist below the poverty line, spending their lives either unemployed, underemployed, or in menial jobs, regardless of intelligence or motivation. People with autism frequently have difficulty with physical coordination, and can be female, transgendered, coloured, of below-average intellect, as well as male and white. In seeking, admirably, to humanise and legitimise those with autism for a neurotypical audience, the author presents an idealised version of the condition that ultimately eliminates most of the "problem" areas that lead those with autism to be undervalued. The straight, (awkwardly) masculine protagonist possesses remarkable physically dexterity and agility, being able to scale brick walls and execute precision martial arts moves. He's upwardly mobile, widely respected academically, and has his pick of lucrative international career choices. The list of "corrected" autistic "defects" goes on and on. Alright, a version of this individual probably exists. But please, don't build a hero for the mainstream by presenting someone who ticks all of the boxes for "extraordinary" minus some fluency in social cues. Value is not synonymous with success. A more powerful story would have presented the range of challenges actually faced by people with autism, and would have made an unapologetic powerhouse from them, poverty, sexuality, lack of formal education and all. "The Rosie Project" is a funny, heartwarming apology for the reality of those undervalued by a system that rewards whiteness, straightness, maleness, physical robustness, and exceptional educational and economic achievement, to the exclusion of those with lifelong challenges for whom such outcomes are unattainable. To those with autism out there who aren't "extraordinary" in any way other than the fact of being who they are: You are heroes just for getting by daily in a society that prizes a narrow set of characteristics you may or may not ever possess. You don't have to transform yourself into a Don Tillman or a Lisbeth Salander. Let's hope the next bestselling protagonist with autism, just like so many understated fictional neurotypical characters, is celebrated for their flawed human ordinariness. People can be moved without being inspired.

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