Drea sees and experiences the world differently than most people. She notices things others don't (she has an incredible ear for rhythm and layers of sound but cannot tolerate the noise of the vacuum) and doesn't notice things others do (she has trouble reading others' subtle nonverbal cues).
She has been diagnosed with Asperger's Disorder and ADHD. But those diagnoses don't define her. They are just the way others have tried to encompass her behaviors, responses to sensory stimuli and social situations, preoccupations, and habits.
Back in December, I did a post on writing young adult characters with mental and emotional disorders. And this book? Yeah. Nailed it.
In that post, I recommended authors go for five things:
Individuality: no stereotyping. People diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder are as varied as people who have brown hair. Yes, they share some characteristics, but even those look different from person to person. Tara Kelly paints a nuanced picture of Drea, and I never got the sense she was going for the easily identifiable symptom or description. And what I really, really loved--you see how Drea's characteristics are double-edged. Both weakness and strength. Vulnerability and protection.
Depth: regardless of diagnoses, a person is a person with interests, preferences, passions, weaknesses. Drea is a fascinating girl with her own way of seeing the world. I know nothing about music production, but reading about it from Drea's perspective made me listen to my own music a little more attentively. No doubt about it, Drea is a fully realized, 3-D character. You can't explain her with a label, because there's just too much THERE there (and this goes for the other characters in the book as well).
Reality: despite her intelligence and sensitivity, Drea shows some impairment. This is most apparent when she's trying to read others' social cues or being bombarded with sensory stimulation. Drea has her flaws and weaknesses, and they happen to be identifiable symptoms of Asperger's. They are often subtle, and she's able to compensate quite a bit because she's bright and a quick study. But they do get in her way. She's acutely aware of it, too, which makes the reader hurt for her at certain points.
|I know nothing about wah pedals.|
But Tara Kelly does.
For those reasons and so many more, Harmonic Feedback ate my Saturday. I couldn't put it down.
In a future post, I'll talk about how I assess and diagnose. I specialize in working with young children, so I am often the first person to evaluate a child, and sometimes the first to say words like "autistic" or "developmental disorder" to a family. I agonize about every single diagnostic call and treatment recommendation. Perhaps that's why some of the descriptions of Drea's experiences with professionals were a little hard for me to read. But in a good way. A way that made me want to work harder.
Have you read Harmonic Feedback? What did you think of it? How about other books depicting characters with diagnosed mental, emotional, or developmental disorders? Or are you writing a character who happens to have a diagnosis? How do you go about it?