(Editor's Note: ...And we all want to know why, Mike! But first, before we get to your most interesting post: Dear reader, are you a teacher or librarian? If so, please know Mike is generously donating two classroom sets of 12 hardcovers for two lucky teachers/librarians! The details on how to win are at the end of this post. And now, with no further ado...)
This is the last time I write a book with a neurotypical protagonist.
Okay okay, that’s a little dramatic - it’s probably not the last time ever - but I started writing THE BOYS IN THE BACK ROW before I was diagnosed as autistic, and as I’ve gone deeper into the process of understanding what it means to be autistic, it’s become crystal clear that I need write about autistic protagonists.
If you’re asking “why,” well, it’s just because autism is one of the many things that define me as a human being, and if I don’t write about autistic characters, I won’t bring all of the truly
meaningful facets of my humanity into my writing. Not that we have to inject every single thing
about ourselves without exception, gah into every book we write, but the truth is that as an
autistic person creating stories about allistic characters, I’ve been writing exclusively outside of
my own life experiences. I’d like to do the opposite now.
That answer feels obvious now, but if I’m going to be honest, it took me a while to get there. Not because I had trouble accepting the knowledge that I’m autistic - it was a long time coming, in fact - but because I was so deeply entangled in the process of exploring that new self-knowledge in my real, day-to-day life that I didn’t get around to exploring it in my work for
another couple of years.
For a while I just wallowed in relief - knowing I’m autistic explained so many things! There was
so much to revisit, reflect on, and engage with. I disclosed my diagnosis to a number of friends. I began seeking out autistic communities. Miranda (I’m her husband) connected a lot of dots that eventually brought me to Aikido Shusekai, where I now have the good fortune to study with Nick Walker Sensei, who’s not just the only autistic martial arts instructor I know of, but is a longtime public voice and scholar in the world of autism rights. I had the equally good fortune to meet and develop meaningful friendships with other autistic writers.
So it’s interesting to anticipate the publication of THE BOYS IN THE BACK ROW, which reflects so many deeply lived realities of my life - marching band, comic books, friendship, the
experience of emotional vulnerability in a society that prizes a poisonous concept of masculinity- but doesn’t reflect one of the newest and most significant aspects of my selfhood.
It’s not any kind of a problem, of course; things happen how and when they happen, you know? These pockets of misalignment in our experiences of selfhood are pretty commonplace. And I’m proud as hell of this book; I may not have brought the entirety of who I am to the process of writing it, but I brought what I knew about at the time.
I think there’s a decent chance that readers, neurodivergent or not, will see important, deeply
felt aspects of themselves in BOYS. It truly is a book of my heart. And it’s also true that my heart feels bigger, fuller, and more whole these days. I’ve expanded my understanding of who I am in my internal and external lives; now it’s time to expand my work too. Now it’s time for autistic protagonists. I’m excited for it, people. Here we go.
Are you a teacher or librarian?
If so, this Twitter Giveaway is for you! Mike is generously donating two classroom sets -- 12 hardcovers each -- to two lucky teachers/librarians. The winners will be chosen in a week. To enter, between now and next Wednesday, simply:
Rules, 59 Reasons to Write, (Don’t) Call Me Crazy, and The Hero Next Door. His books have been honored by the Bank Street College of Education, Children’s Book Council Reading Beyond List, Cooperative Children's Book Center, Georgia State Book Awards, Iowa Children's Choice Awards, Kansas State Reading Circle, National Parenting Publications Awards, Parents Choice Foundation, and Texas Bluebonnet Awards. He's proud to be a founding member of the #WeNeedDiverseBooks team, and lives in Oakland, California, with his family. Find Mike on Facebook, Twitter, or at www.mikejung.com.