ELEMENTAL ISLAND by Kathy Hoopmann


Age Range: 9 - 12
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Interested in idioms and fashion, 11-year-old Astatine is an outsider on literal, scientific, inescapable Elemental Island—she has Social Syndrome in a place where implied, exaggerated autism is the norm.

When foreigner Danny lands in a forbidden plane, Astatine dreams of adventures beyond completing her adulthood thesis. Murky worldbuilding and shallow character development weaken this well-intentioned tale's effect. The portrayal of social people as abnormal may increase understanding of neurodiversity on both sides, but if readers aren't familiar with the historical treatment of autistic people, vague references to "de-socialisation" will have little emotional impact. Conflating autistic traits with entirely scientific aptitudes risks perpetuating stereotypes, especially alongside reductive contrasts between autism and Social Syndrome. Social Syndrome, for instance, is "hugs and wanting to be with people. Talking about life. Being curious about everything and obsessed about nothing." Hoopmann allows little spectrum, autistic or otherwise, outside Astatine's circle; borderline mechanical characters aren't much more than recitations of their obsessions, lacking opportunities to share thoughts or feelings that might add gradations to black-and-white thinking. The desire of some islanders to fly to the mainland and mingle with its social population verges on introducing the spectrum as well as its acceptance, but that may not be easily apparent after so many absolutes.

This quick futuristic tale encourages autistic and neurotypical readers alike to venture beyond their comfort zones, albeit clumsily. (Science fiction. 9-12)

Pub Date: Dec. 3rd, 2015
ISBN: 978-1-84905-658-8
Page count: 224pp
Publisher: Jessica Kingsley Publishers
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