I was delighted when my writing colleague Beth Stilborn introduced me to Wild Orchid and Waiting for No One, written by Beverley Brenna, a Canadian author. Please check out the interview with Brenna on Beth’s site. Brenna writes about an 18-year-old girl with Asperger’s Syndrome, who graduates from high school and begins her journey into adulthood. Since there is a large number of teens making this transition, Brenna’s books are very relevant and compelling reads for teenagers, parents, teachers and counselors.
In Wild Orchid, we meet Taylor Jane Simon as she graduates and prepares to go with her mother to Waskesiu, Saskatchewan for the summer, in Prince Albert National Park. Taylor doesn’t like change, or her mother’s boyfriend, and is unhappy about the move. Taylor’s teacher has encouraged her to keep a diary, so her story is written in first person. Each chapter is a different length depending upon what Taylor has to say, or her mood. Taylor’s journal reveals her anger, disappointment, sadness, confusion, fear, anxiety, and courage to move forward.
Brenna really has a gift for getting into the mind of her complex character and showing how confusing life can be for someone with Asperger’s. Taylor doesn’t like to make eye contact with people. She finds social cues complicated and misreads responses from people. Bright lights and noises bother her. She hates the color yellow, and sneezes when she is near a yellow object. She likes her daily routines and she counts everything in sevens. She has meltdowns when she is overwhelmed. She is intelligent and can quote facts verbatim.
Yet, Taylor perseveres and lands her first summer job in a nature center book store. It is here that she begins to grow, discover independence, and gain self-confidence. The summer in Waskesiu turns out to be good for Taylor and like any ordinary teenager she wants to make decisions about her future. Taylor is very bright and has excellent verbal skills. Taylor’s transition is a little more complicated since she falls under the autism spectrum, but her summer leaves the door open for hope for her future.
In Waiting for No One, Taylor has returned home from her summer in Waskesiu. She has a new pet Gerbil, Harold Pinter, who plays a major role in her life. She has plans and takes a biology class at a local university. She rides her bike or takes the bus to class. She participates in a dance class, travels alone by bus to visit her father in Cody, Wyoming for Thanksgiving, and looks for a job in a book store.
As her world becomes even more complex in this second book, you find yourself cheering Taylor on as she steps outside of her comfort zone. As a result, her obsessive-compulsive behavior becomes very apparent when she’s upset and feels out of control. Swear words roll off her tongue at inappropriate moments, and add to the humor of Taylor. Other issues of adulthood emerge. She wants to become independent, when she feels there are others who want to hold her back.
Taylor meets a student in her class, Luke, and they become lab partners. A real friendship develops between the two, and Luke is very accepting of Taylor. Luke invites her to his home to meet his brother, Martin , who has cerebral palsy. Martin is unable to speak and uses an instrument on his computer to communicate. Taylor sees Martin’s frustrations and she makes suggestions that are helpful for Martin, but upsetting to his father — more humor. Taylor understands more than anyone how important it is for Martin to have rights and a voice. Deep inside, Taylor wants to be seen as an individual and not as someone with a disability. Some day she just might have that full-time job and an apartment of her own.
I was happy to learn that Beverley Brenna is writing a third novel about Taylor as she continues her path towards independence.
For more information on helping your teenager make the transition to adulthood, contact Austism Speaks for their helpful “Transition Tool Kit.” Over one-half million children will make this transition, and they will want to have homes, jobs and friends. This is a societal issue.