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Kirstin Cronn-Mills: Rules For Camouflage (Neurodiversity)



I don’t honestly know how to explain the creation of Rules for Camouflage.


I watched parts of this book happen. Other parts I imagined. Some parts have happened to others. In general, this book is real life for neurodivergent kids, who don’t often get to see their real selves in books. Neurodivergent teens are smart, funny, and lovely, though they’re often represented as detached, difficult, and lazy. I wanted to show Evvie and her pals without stereotypes.

 

I do share a diagnosis with Evvie, and I have many neurodivergent family members, friends, and students, with many different labels and diagnoses. As adults, we remember what it’s like to be unheard, or how often we wanted to fight back when we were misunderstood. But we also know the safety of people who understand and respect your brain, so I wanted to give Evvie and her pal these kinds of adults.

 

I also wanted the story to be hilarious and weird, because we’re hilarious and weird. : )

 

Here are some specific questions readers might have about the book.

 

Why school? Why the Lair? For me, a book usually begins with a character, but that didn’t happen here. Once I started thinking about this novel, Evvie was in my brain pretty quickly (she’s named after my neurodivergent grandma), but the book actually grew from a place: the Lair. I wanted neurodivergent teens to have their own protected space in one of the most challenging environments they experience—an environment they can’t escape, especially in a small town that doesn’t offer alternatives. Once I had the Lair and Evvie, I needed some folks to help Evvie and her pals have a comfortable spot to be themselves, and that’s when Rachel came along (named after someone who helped me understand my own neurodivergence). Everyone and everything else flowed from there.

 

Why such a difficult teacher? Because difficult and unkind teachers exist. Mrs. Dearborn is a combination of a real person who lives to make life hard for everyone around them, and a real person who stays willfully ignorant about neurodivergence. Booooooooo.

 

The kind teacher in the book who balances out Mrs. Dearborn is T, who’s also a real human! Yaaaaaaaay! They’re a former student of mine who’s currently an art teacher in a school district about the size of BLAHS. T was my secret weapon for understanding current high school life, and they were super kind to allow me to put them in the book. They’ve also recently begun to understand their own neurodivergence, which makes their inclusion even more important to me.

 

Why no labels/diagnoses? These things work great for finding help, and finding your community, but after that? Labels are breeding grounds for single stories and assumptions. No thank you. Evvie and her pals have the help they need and a community around them. It’s okay to let them be label-less.

 

Why an octopus? Can you think of a more cool animal than an octopus? Their abilities are a great parallel for human galaxy brains, but their camouflage abilities are a fantastic metaphor. Neurodivergent people know a LOT about camouflage. We understand why others want us to fit in, and we understand what can go wrong when we don’t. Aretha, on the other hand, only camouflages for imminent danger. The rest of the time she’s completely herself. She’s got lessons for us.

 

Did I do a lot of revision? Once I had the Lair and Evvie, and once I knew what I wanted to happen, it was on paper pretty quickly, and the storyline remained the same. It was so fun, following Evvie and her pals around, plus the rest of them: Aretha, T, Rachel, Sarah and Lucie, Josie (who’s a lot like my mom self), and even Bob Dawson. He’s Mrs. Dearborn’s opposite.

 

Do I like being neurodivergent? Of course! And nope, all at the same time. Neurodivergence is a both/and situation. Our brains both help us and hurt us. Sometimes we hurt others, too, which is extra terrible. I wanted that both/and experience in a book, so I wrote it.

 

I’m so glad Evvie is out in the world. I hope you like her, too.



 

Kirstin Cronn-Mills is a self-proclaimed word nerd. She learned to read when she was three (according to her mother) and she hasn't stopped since. Her grandmother and her father passed on their love of language to her, and that love became a love affair when she started writing poems in the sixth grade. She still writes poems, but now she focuses on young adult novels. She's pretty sure that teenagers are the funniest, smartest, coolest people on the planet. She lives in Southern Minnesota. She writes a lot, reads as much as she can, teaches at a two-year college, and goofs around with her son, Shae, and her husband, Dan.

 

 

 

 

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