I’ve had Elle McNicoll’s debut middle grade book, A Kind of Spark, on my TBR pile for a while. I know that when I see lots of reviewers, whose opinions I trust, raving about a book, I need to read it. I finally had a chance to read it and it is every bit as wonderful as I hoped.
Elle puts you in the shoes of Addie, a girl who sees the world as brighter and louder than those around her. Addie is autistic (or neurodiverse) but often finds herself ‘masking’ or pretending to be neurotypical to fit in. When she gets overwhelmed her hands fizz and flap and her limbs become restless, which she calls stimming. Addie has twin older sisters, Keedie and Nina, and Keedie is autistic too. Keedie and Addie understand each other but Nina doesn’t understand them. Addie’s friend, Jenna is now friends with Emily and doesn’t want to hang out with Addie anymore. Addie finds a new friend in Audrey, the new girl at school, who has come to their quiet little Scottish village from London. Audrey understands Addie in a way that Jenna never did. She asks questions about the things that Addie is interested in and tries to understand what it’s like to be autistic. Addie is fascinated by sharks and her school librarian, Mr Allison, is always finding books for her to read. One day in class Addie’s teacher tells them about the historic witch trials that took place in and around their village of Juniper. Addie is fascinated and horrified that something so terrible could happen and she sets out to find out as much as possible about the witch trials and the women who were killed during this time. Addie decides that these women need to be remembered and she makes it her mission to get a plaque placed in her village to commemorate them. The village council try to stop her idea from coming to fruition but the more Addie learns about the so-called ‘witches’ the more determined she becomes to make sure they are remembered.
I absolutely love A Kind of Spark! It is a stunning story that reminds you how important kindness and empathy are. Elle McNicoll takes you inside the head of Addie so that you not only walk in her shoes but also understand how she thinks and feels. We see what makes Addie different but also unique. We see how horrible and intolerant adults and other kids can be to someone that they can see is different. This is a story that will make you smile, laugh, shout and cry. I read this book in a day and I wanted to go right back to the start and read it again.
The things that make this story so great are Elle’s characters and their interactions. Addie is such an interesting character and you gain a real insight in to what it is like to be autistic. Some people, like Audrey and Mr Allison, take the time to get to know Addie and understand what she needs, while others, like Miss Murphy, just write her off as not being worth their time. I love the relationship between Addie and Keedie, as they understand each other. They can talk about how they’re feeling and the frustrations of being autistic (like not being able to easily read facial expressions) because they both understand what it feels like. One of my favourite characters is the school librarian, Mr Allison, because he knows what kind of things Addie is interested in and keeps books aside for her. He also comes to Addie’s aide when she needs him.
As with many kids who are seen to be different, Addie is bullied, both by a girl in her class and her teacher. Emily, the girl that is now friends with Addie’s ex-best friend, is nasty to Addie at any given opportunity. It gets so bad that there is a horrible thing that happens in the classroom that leads Addie to have a meltdown. Miss Murphy also bullies Addie, by doing things like ripping up her writing. Miss Murphy is intolerant of Addie and her differences and has a grudge against her from the start. Seeing the way Emily and Miss Murphy treat Addie make you feel horrible and want to shout at them.
A Kind of Spark is a perfect read aloud for Years 6-9 and makes a great alternative to Wonder. The themes are similar and the story will grab the whole class. This is also a great book for a class set for the same ages as there are some good themes to discuss and relatable characters. Elle McNicoll’s next book, Show Us Who You Are, is due out in March and it sounds AMAZING, so I can’t wait to read it!