Book review: autistic girl thinks of others persecuted

August 31, 2023

Front cover of A Kind of Spark

Exposure’s autistic author, Max Ferreira reads about vulnerable schoolgirl campaigning for memorial plaque

When I hear the word neurodivergent, I know it refers to people with learning difficulties like Autism, ADHD and Dyslexia who think and see the world differently. Then I spotted a unique novel that showcases this, while offering encouragement and self esteem. It’s called A Kind of Spark.

Written by Elle McNicoll in June 2020, A Kind of Spark is about an 11-year-old schoolgirl called Addie Darrow who has autism. She lives in Juniper, a small Scottish village with her mum, dad, and sisters Nina and Keedie.

The story leads to Addie who, following a history lesson at school, becomes fascinated about what happened a long time ago in Scotland called the witch trials. It’s where young women were executed for being witches or – in other words – getting punished for being different.

Addie makes up her mind to persuade the village council to have a memorial plaque to remember the witch trials. Despite the lack of interest from some people, Addie is determined to bring history back to Juniper that she believes is important by setting up a campaign whilst overcoming some eventful challenges in the process.

The book highlights something that young girls with autism do better than boys: masking

What I like about the A Kind of Spark is how Addie is able to open up about her feelings, thoughts and interests when she narrates about being autistic and explores the world around her. For example, she describes Juniper as being like a goldfish bowl whereas London is like a big coral reef with lots of different fishes.

Unlike The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon A Kind of Spark is targeted at younger readers. It has a brighter story, with characters that help Addie along the way, like her school friend Audrey who helps with the campaign and older sister Keedie who’s autistic herself. 

The book also highlights something that young girls with autism do better than boys: masking. It’s where they hide their autistic symptoms in order to fit with society, which is unhealthy for them if they do it all the time.

According to Elle McNicoll, “I wanted to write an autistic heroine who had agency. I’ve filled the book with all of the pain, hope, frustration, joy, shame and electricity of being a neurodivergent child. I will write about neurodivergence for as long as people don’t truly understand the beauty of that word.”

Rewriting history and teaching about Neurodiversity – all wrapped up in an excellent story

This means Elle was willing to tell the adventure of a young autistic person, with similar experience to herself: whether it’s going to school or meeting new people, as well as reflecting on the challenges and achievements that they experience daily.

Since the book’s release it has received positive feedback from readers and went on to win book competitions and awards like the Blackwell’s Book of the Year (2020). One reviewer from the Waterstones website said, “Rewriting history and teaching about Neurodiversity – all wrapped up in an excellent story.”

Elle has gone on to write more books featuring characters with learning difficulties like Show Us Who You Are and Like A Charm.

Recently The Kind of Spark was adapted into a live action drama series on CBBC, featuring Lola Blue (Addie), Georgia De Gidlow (Keedie) and Caitlin Hamilton (Nina), who are neurodivergent actors. See the trailer below.

As a young person with autism I found the story really engaging and wonderfully written. A Kind of Spark really adds to a portfolio of other books written by autistic writers talking about their own experiences, like The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida and Amazing Me, Amazing You by Christine McGuinness. 

Like Elle I like writing stories about my own experience of autism in a fictional way. When I write stories for Exposure I have a least one autistic character included, like Missing North London and The Thankful World of Eric.

I absolutely recommend this creative book that gives a good insight to young people with autism and visualises how much they can achieve in life. It’s like they say: don’t judge a book by its cover. I am very grateful that the experiences and creativity of young people with autism are being celebrated in this way.

You can order the book right now online.