Book Review: Odd Girl Out by Laura James

I was extremely excited when I heard I had been given the opportunity to review Laura James’ new book “Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World” . Like me, Laura is in her 40s and recently-diagnosed Aspergers. I had come across her on social media. Her book did not disappoint; I’d say it’s essential reading for all autistic women especially those of us who lived a lot of our lives in the shadows before we were able to explain our differences. It’s a positive, upbeat book while at the same time Laura is not afraid to delve into deeper, darker realms. I love her style, her quirkiness and brutal honesty. From the first page she draws the reader into her confidence and I felt I’d made a friend. Her combination of the emotional journey she has undertaken in the last year interspersed with flashbacks to earlier times in her life, works well and is similar to the journey I’ve been on in the year since my diagnosis.
From page one, I could relate to several stark sentences. “A sense of unease, as if something is going to happen, like the rumble on a track that speaks of a train about to whizz by.” “I can’t name my feelings.” “The world is an alien place to me.” These are, I think, common to many autistic people.
However, as the book progressed, interestingly I found myself identifying more with her husband Tim. Laura keeps saying that he is neurotypical, but I wonder. Many of us are drawn to neurodiverse partners who maybe complement our shortcomings. Laura admits to living with an all-pervading fear of the future. I don’t. Like Tim, I let life happen around me. Tim is an optimist who can only exist in the present, I would say the same for myself. He is good at prioritising and taking care of himself. I have never had a problem with these. He can sum up his feelings in 2 words: eg. excited and sad. When I can put names to my feelings, these are the kind of simple words I would choose too. Tim is a musician and a songwriter like me – I imagine I’d get on very well with the guy.
That said, I found Laura’s descriptions of her life intriguing and fascinating. I particularly enjoyed the flashback to her primary years, which I could relate to very much: “I would create imaginary worlds in my head and would sit still for hours coming up with the rules for this parallel universe.” (My own early years were dominated by imaginary “friends” who were my only companions in the school playground.) “I don’t enjoy playtimes because I don’t know what to do. Some of the girls play games, like one of them being the mummy and the others being the children. I don’t want to do this. I tell them I think it’s boring because it is.” “I want to stay in my classroom and not go and play in the playground but that is not allowed.” I love the way Laura’s style in this chapter is written how a child would actually think. Like her, I often couldn’t understand the rules other children lived by. “Everyone at school lies, but when I tell them they are lying I am the one who gets into trouble. It’s not fair” Absolutely. (Although unlike Laura, being a generally greedy child I was a fan of school dinners!) I didn’t relate so much to the description of Laura’s teenage years: I had by this time realised I was odd, and drinking and smoking with my peers was not something I engaged in, ever.
Throughout the book, Laura consults people who are at the top of the field in autistic writing and activism. (I’m very envious of the fact she is on first-name terms with Tony Attwood, Steve Silberman, Sarah Hendrickx, and Sarah Wild the head of Limpsfield Grange School.) Their insights into Laura’s life and the way she intersperses them into the book are touches of genius. They suggest ways for Laura to manage and to work with her strengths, in a way that’s very positive.
The feelings Laura had in the months after her diagnosis particularly resonate with me. She describes a lone goose flying in the middle of a skein: “Before my diagnosis, I had spent all my life waiting. Waiting to find out what was wrong with me. Waiting to fit in. Waiting for my life to begin. Waiting to find the proper me. Now, a year on, I realise I have been waiting for nothing and, like the middle goose, I will probably never fit in.” The end of the book is hugely positive. Like Laura and Tim, my relationship with my other half improved greatly once we knew about my autism. “We are being kinder to each other. We have become more understanding of each other’s faults and we celebrate each other’s talents more.” Couldn’t have put it better myself. I am pleased for Laura that she has grown in self-acceptance: “there are huge advantages to being autistic- the quickness of my mind, my ability to take in new information, my intelligence, the passion I feel for causes I believe in, my inability to take offence.” Yes, yes and double yes. I hope anyone who reads this who is unsure about pursuing diagnosis will go for it. Like many readers, I am still on my journey, as Laura says the diagnosis is just the beginning.
Finally I would just like to say a big Thank You to Laura for sharing her story in order to help me and so many others. Bravo!

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