From Amazon: “Annika Rose is an English major at the University of Illinois. Anxious in social situations where she finds most people’s behavior confusing, she’d rather be surrounded by the order and discipline of books or the quiet solitude of playing chess.
Jonathan Hoffman joined the chess club and lost his first game—and his heart—to the shy and awkward, yet brilliant and beautiful Annika. He admires her ability to be true to herself, quirks and all, and accepts the challenges involved in pursuing a relationship with her. Jonathan and Annika bring out the best in each other, finding the confidence and courage within themselves to plan a future together. What follows is a tumultuous yet tender love affair that withstands everything except the unforeseen tragedy that forces them apart, shattering their connection and leaving them to navigate their lives alone.
Now, a decade later, fate reunites Annika and Jonathan in Chicago. She’s living the life she wanted as a librarian. He’s a Wall Street whiz, recovering from a divorce and seeking a fresh start. The attraction and strong feelings they once shared are instantly rekindled, but until they confront the fears and anxieties that drove them apart, their second chance will end before it truly begins.”
In honor of Autism Awareness Month, I decided to do some reading or listening to books where a character is autistic. I’ve already got a good selection of middle grade books that my kids could read so 1) the two on the spectrum could see there are other kids like them in literature and 2) to teach my two neurotypical girls a little empathy towards their other sister and brother and help them understand autism a little better. However, I hadn’t read much adult literature until now.
The Girl He Used to Know (Amazon) tells the story of Annika, a young lady in 1991 Illinois going to college. She struggles with everyday things, like clothing that doesn’t bother her, to making eye contact with others, to not knowing what to say in a social situation. College is hard enough for an average student, but for someone like Annika, it’s extra challenging.
She decides to join the chess club and meets Jonathan, who is intrigued by her. First, she beats him in chess, she’s different than any other girl he’s met, and he finds her absolutely beautiful yet unaware of her physical attributes. Soon, they are dating, and all seems to be well until an unforeseen tragedy forces them to break up.
One decade later, in 2001, Annika and Jonathan are reunited and happen to be living in the same city. The two start to rekindle their romance, but first they must address why they broke up in the first place.
First off, props to the author for creating an advocate for Annika, her college roommate Janice. There were so many times when people would want to take advantage of Annika, but Janice looks out for her and tries to teach her. Even though they end up living many miles apart, the friendship endures.
What I liked about this novel: showing a female with autism, who’s the same age I was in 1991, so it was a bit nostalgic for me as well. What I didn’t like: Jonathan comes across as someone who’s settling on Annika and tries to change her. There’s correcting inappropriate behavior, and then there’s just condescension. On the other hand, he does not dismiss Annika for her behavior and tries to have an open understanding of her struggles.
One other thing is the unexpected drama at the end of the book. I thought it was a little implausible yet added to Annika’s growth arc.
I’m so glad I had the opportunity to read this book during Autism Awareness Month. I never get tired of learning more about those who are autistic because besides two of my kiddos, 1 in 58 children are diagnosed as being on the spectrum. So much energy is put into teaching autistic children and adults how to interact with others, but can the same be said the other way around? Are neurotypical people taught how to interact with those with autism?
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