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Sarah Tomp: ADHD + Autism in a YA Romance

(NOTE: Info about how to enter a Book Giveaway is at the end of this post.)

My favorite part of writing a love story is the matchmaking.

When I first started writing The Easy Part of Impossible, I didn’t set out to write about characters defined by particular labels. I simply wanted to write a story about a lost girl and a boy who makes maps.

As I got to know my characters better, it occurred to me that my main character, Ria, and her friend, Cotton, acted like some of the teens I knew. I’ve worked in public schools most of my adult life. First as a special education teacher, more recently providing Health and Wellness services. I’ve spent a lot of time with kids who feel different. They may toil over things that others find easy. They often think they’re lacking in some way. Feeling like an outsider—for whatever reason—takes a toll on one’s confidence.

Ria struggles in school due to her ADHD and learning disabilities. She’s impulsive and reactive. Her attention wanders and her body follows. She tests boundaries and the patience of others. She misses things that other people see as important, and spends too much time focused on something everyone else thinks is inconsequential. She knows that her innate restlessness annoys people.

However, her feelings of inadequacy have been countered by her phenomenal success as a competitive diver. She trusts her body more than her mind, which she sees as flawed. She believes she owes her achievements all to Coach Benny. He is the one person who makes her feel as though her reckless way of greeting the world is an asset. And so, she unfailingly obeys her coach’s every demand and accepts his punishments without protest—after all, she’s used to being in trouble.

Heading into her senior year of high school, Ria is at a crossroads and needs to make a life-changing decision. She feels lost and doesn’t trust herself. As someone who has already suffered being under the control of strict and abusive coach, she doesn’t need someone to tell her what to do. She needs someone who is honest, direct, and who appreciates her different way of thinking. She needs a safe place to confess her secrets.

She needs a friend like Cotton.

Cotton tends to stay on the outskirts at school. At first glance, some people may assume he’s disinterested or unengaged, but that’s because he is uncomfortable in unpredictable situations. He has some sensory issues, especially with regards to physical contact. He can have difficulty reading others’ emotions, but he knows it. He’s straightforward and literal. And unfailingly loyal. His passion is map-making, especially in the local cave he explores with his friend Leo.

Ria and Cotton are different from one another in many ways. But they have a shared history. Their friendship was forged in their elementary school years, within the special education resource room. They have each been told, all their school lives, that their inherent view of the world is wrong.

An early reader made the assumption that Cotton couldn’t possibly be Ria’s love interest. They thought he was too different, too odd. This floored me. Someone who was honest, kind, and passionate couldn’t be the leading man?

Fortunately, this comment motivated me to make especially sure their love story made sense. I knew Cotton wouldn’t rescue Ria—she’s tough enough to rescue herself—but he teaches her how to use a map so she can find her own way. And she’s a light for him, too. She helps him explore new territory. Their slow-burn relationship might not look like a typical romance, but it’s the right one for them.

As with any relationship, they stumble at times. They have miscommunications and don’t always agree. But with each other they can be authentic. They tell each other the truth and have a safe word to use if the other ventures on to rocky emotional ground. Best of all, they don’t have to pretend to fit into some preconceived form of typical or normal—as if that is one measurable way to be.

Not every love story looks the same, but everyone deserves to be the star of their own.



Sarah has kindly agreed to give away a copy of The Easy Part of Impossible.

(US only, please). To enter, just:

A random winner will be chosen in about a week - we'll notify you by email.


Sarah Tomp has an MFA in writing for children and young adults from Vermont College of Fine Arts. She works in public schools and teaches creative writing classes for the University of California Extension. She lives in San Diego with her family where she loves walking her dog on the beach and in the canyons. Learn more at Or visit her at @swtomp on both Twitter and Instagram.


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