Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll

One of the things I love most about reading is being able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Sometimes we can relate to the character because we’ve had similar experiences or felt the same way. Sometimes the character can be completely different from us, which allows us to see the world from a different point of view. It is those characters, who are different from us, whose stories teach us empathy. This is the reason that I love Elle McNicoll’s books so much. In her debut middle grade book, A Kind of Spark, Elle introduced us to Addie, a neurodivergent girl who sees injustice and stands up to it. In her new book, Show Us Who You Are, Elle introduces us to Cora, a neurodivergent girl who must fight to make herself heard and stop those who would erase the thing that makes her unique.

When Cora goes to a party hosted by her brother’s boss she doesn’t expect to enjoy it. As someone with Autism, being around a whole lot of people that she doesn’t know is something that she hates. While exploring the garden behind the house Cora meets Adrien. She isn’t looking for a new best friend, but this is quickly what Adrien becomes. Adrien is different, like her. He’s unpredictable, fun and funny. The more time her and Adrien spend together, the more Cora learns about the mysterious Pomegranate Institute, run by Adrien’s father, Magnus. Cora becomes captivated by the Pomegranate Institute and their holographic technology that can bring people back to life. Magnus and the head scientist, Dr Gold, offer Cora the chance to help with their research on neurodivergent people. They want to interview her so that they are able to make it easier to create a neurodivergent hologram. When tragedy strikes, Cora is left with little choice but to participate in the interviews, as Pomegranate offers her something that no-one else can. However, Cora soon uncovers secrets lurking behind the shiny façade of Pomegranate, secrets that those in charge will do anything to keep hidden. Cora will need to fight to make her voice heard and show the world that who she is, matters.

Show Us Who You Are is a powerful, incredibly moving sci-fi story about individuality, grief and standing up for what is right. You feel a connection with Cora straight away and this grows stronger throughout the story, as you experience the joy and pain right beside her. This story makes you laugh one moment and bawl your eyes out the next. It makes your heart race and your heart break. I was a complete mess after finishing the book and I had to take some time to just take in everything that had happened and enjoy the perfect ending. The last part of the book is really nail-biting too, as you can’t guess what is going to happen next. Elle takes us inside the head of her autistic character and helps to give us a better understanding of what it is like to be neurodivergent. The experiences of Elle’s characters encouraged me to find out more about Autism Spectrum Disorder in order to better understand it.

Elle’s writing is so stunning that she makes you feel completely connected to her characters and captures emotion so perfectly. I stopped lots of times throughout the book to write down passages that I loved. I love the way that Cora explains grief:

‘Grief is like rain. When you’re standing in the street, drenched and freezing cold, it’s hard to remember what it’s like to feel warm and dry. It’s hard to imagine feeling warm and dry ever again. But some people are umbrellas. And they keep away the worst of the storm.’

The relationship between Cora and Adrien is one of my favourite in middle grade fiction. I love the way that they have fun together and can truly be themselves around each other. They are there for each other when it matters most. The thing I like the most about their relationship is that they are just really good friends, without romantic feelings getting in the way.

The other character that I really loved was Cora’s dad, because of his perspective and acceptance. Cora’s dad is the opposite of Adrien’s dad. While Adrien’s dad is too wrapped up in his work and never has time for him, Cora’s dad says ‘I’ve got all the time in the world for you, kid. Don’t ever forget it.’ Adrien’s dad never really accepts him for who he is, while Cora’s dad tells her:

‘I would never, ever change you. Not for anything. You see the world so differently. While everyone else sees sepia Kansas, you’re in technicolour Oz.’

Show Us Who You Are is one of my top books of 2021 and is a must-buy for intermediate and high school libraries. It would be a great read aloud or a class set for Years 7-9 as there is so much to unpack in the story. The idea of creating holograms to help us live forever is an interesting moral and ethical issue to discuss with students.

Check out this video of Elle McNicoll talking about Show Us Who You Are:

Yes by Deborah Burnside

Every now and again you read a book that you really connect with.  Something about it, whether the characters or the story, strike a chord with you.  You get to the end of the book and you just sit there for a while thinking about it, with a smile on your face but with a sense of loss because it’s over.  Deborah Burnside’s latest book, Yes, is one of those books.

Marty (AKA M & M) has trouble reading people, organizing things and pleasing his father.  His brain isn’t wired the same as other people so it takes him longer to figure things out, but he’s as normal as any other teenager on the outside.  Luke spends his time hanging out with his best mate Luke (AKA Legless) and his ‘chick-mate’ Francesca, who he’s had a crush on for ages.  Luke’s always trying to get Marty into all sorts of crazy ventures, and when he attempts to get him involved in YES (the Young Enterprise Scheme) it’s futile to resist.  Marty doesn’t know what to expect, but the last thing he thought he would be doing was making crochet hats and being mentored by his dad.  Will their business succeed or will it all fall apart?

Deborah Burnside has created a memorable character with an authentic voice.  As Yes is told in the first person, we really get inside Marty’s head and we get the sense of how difficult it is for Marty to read people and make sense of the world.  Even though his brain is wired differently, Marty is still such a typical teenage boy.  He’s got a crush on his ‘chick-mate,’ his dad’s an embarrassment and Marty never seems to live up to his expectations, and he has an obsession with sex.  It’s a sign of a great story when you can picture yourself in the same situations, in places that you know – I kept thinking of myself and my best mate from high school as Marty and Luke.  One of the things I liked most about Yes is that Deborah can have you laughing out loud one moment, then in tears, and leave you with a smile on your face by the end of the story.

I can’t recommend Yes highly enough.  It’s my favourite New Zealand book of 2011 and I’ll be surprised if it’s not a finalist in the 2012 New Zealand Post Children’s Book Awards.