Monday, October 28, 2013

Review: _No You Don't: Essays from an Unstrange Mind_ by Sparrow Rose Jones

When I first approached No You Don't, I wasn't sure what to expect. I've read a number of autism memoirs, novels about us, and monographs that purported to tell “the story” of our condition, both as research for my own books and as a way of attempting to understand myself and my relationship to society as a whole. In every case, I have found other autism books to be missing some key element of the discussion, either because they try too hard to generalize from a few anecdotes to an entire population or because they reinforce the just-so stories that explain away the diversity of Autistic experience by reinforcing stereotypes about us.

No You Don't cleverly avoids all of those things, and it does so without reveling in its own cleverness. Ms. Jones's series of essays are nuanced and detailed, and she is careful to highlight the ways in which her experience both does and does not reflect the conditions that other Autistics face. She discusses common problems without sweeping generalizations, confronts specific cases of abuse and brutality from her past, and narrates her path toward an understanding of her own situation with a disarming combination of humility and kindness that, in every case, thoroughly explained her perspective without dictating that others should automatically adopt it.

If I had to try to pin down No You Don't to a certain genre or format, I would say that it is a book of skeptical essays that does not shrink from the task of reviewing lived experience and empirical evidence and contrasting it sharply against armchair theories and public perceptions. It is not only that, though. It is also a primer on patience and understanding, and a thoroughly enjoyable lesson about the importance of knowing oneself instead of defining oneself by the expectations of others.

I come from a family that has a multi-generational history of neurodivergence. In one way or another, most of us have been touched by learning and developmental disabilities, neurological problems, and/or mental illness, and in Ms. Jones's essays I found not only echoes of myself, but of my mother, my sister, and my grandfather. It is a terribly important book, not just for people who are attempting to understand autism, but also for people who are feeling lost or alone due to any hidden disability, mental illness, or recent trauma. It is a book about hope that is not afraid to confront the darkness and name the shadows, and an object lesson in a market clogged with abstract morality tales.

I can not recommend it strongly enough.