My Review of “Elemental Island”

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This is an adventure story set amongst an isolated community living on an island. The beginning sets the scene in a world where technology and culture has developed differently. Life is comfortable and safe, for all in the community, and society is technologically advanced, except in one respect, that of flight, which is forbidden. Astie is a bored and frustrated 11 year old who longs for something new and different to happen in her predictable life. Little does she know how much her life is about to change when she meets a new boy on the beach who has come from the mainland. Intrigue and suspense unfold as she tries to help him, and ultimately forgotten truths about the island’s history are revealed. The story turns the tables by creating a scenario where the majority of the population have Asperger’s syndrome (without actually ever mentioning that term; in this story “Asperger’s” is normal, not a syndrome). It cleverly challenges our perception of what we call “normal” and how we define something as a disorder. Whilst remaining entirely a fictional adventure story it prompts a questioning of assumptions we as a society take for granted. What would life be like for autistics living in a world that accepts and accommodates their needs as normality? The main character Astie has difficulty fitting in with her peers and conforming to adults’ expectations. She is given a diagnosis of Social Syndrome. Is it wrong to label those who are innately different as having a “syndrome”? The reversal of the usual scenario starkly highlights how it is a struggle for people who experience the world differently to find acceptance and recognition. I had a little difficulty with this story initially as it seems in the beginning to perpetuate stereotypes such as all autistics dislike physical contact, or are not interested in creative careers such as fashion. However it was interesting to conceive of a world where these sorts of qualities are the norm. Nevertheless I soon became gripped by the plot and engaged with the development of the characters. My 11 year old daughter was similarly gripped by the story and we are both keen to read more by this author. It is refreshing to read fiction for an older child’s age range that portrays Asperger’s as normality. This fills a niche that was previously lacking for me. It is a good book that can engage both adult and child. This book succeeded at that for us.

Janey Colbourne 2016

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