Monday, 28 April 2014

Smart by Kim Slater

If there's one thing YA books are good at, it's trying to get people talking about things that are considered taboo. At the moment, there's a big push to get people talking more freely about mental health and ridding the stigmas that go with it. So while some people may pick up Smart and think "not another autistic kid solving crimes", you really should be thinking, "why not have another autistic kid solving crimes?" Yes, we already have The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, which I enjoyed. But it doesn't mean that there shouldn't be another book about an autistic teen discovering a mystery and trying to solve it. Especially when they're good at it.

Kieran Woods is autistic teen living in an abusive situation. His step-father and step-brother are abusive to Kieran and especially to Kieran's mother. He has no friends at school, and outside of school he only really has a homeless woman, Jean, to talk to. And when Kieran finds a body in the river and discovers it was Jean's friend, he is convinced that it is more than just an accident. Considering it's Kieran's dream to be a journalist and report on crimes, this seems like the perfect opportunity for him to prove he can solve the mystery.

With the increase of characters with mental health issues in YA literature, I wouldn't be surprised in even more characters with autism entering the scene because they are fantastically complex and have so much to offer a story. If there's anything Smart shows us, it's that even though someone may have a different way of thinking, it's not wrong and it certainly has its strengths. Kieran may have trouble understanding how to relate to other people, but he demonstrates the capacity to learn as well as being very clever and talented.

After reading Smart, I was intrigued by Kieran's ability to notice details and accurately draw them. So I did a quick Google search on autistic artists, which was fascinating. While autism is so often shown as a disability in modern society, it also appears provide some with superior abilities of memorization and noticing minute details. This is certainly the case of Kieran, and also what makes him an ideal detective in Smart. It's painful to see how Kieran is treated, but heartwarming when people realise what he is capable of and how he doesn't hold the prejudices against other people as most of us might do. Smart leaves you with the hope that this realisation will extend beyond Kieran and will soon become a part of everyday life.

Smart by Kim Slater is published on 5th June by Macmillan Children's Books.

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