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Bookbed reviews ‘On the Spectrum’ by Jennifer Gold

BY KB MENIADO

THE STORY

Growing up in the shadow of a famous mother, Clara has never felt good about her body. Now, at sixteen, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. After a social media disaster, she decides to escape for the summer to Paris to stay with her estranged dad and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum. Charged with his care, Clara and Alastair set out to explore the city. Paris teaches Clara about first love and gives her a new love of food. And Alastair teaches Clara about patience, trust and the beauty of loving without judgment. Get a copy: Book Depository / Read reviews: Goodreads

WHAT I LIKED

Mommy issues, daddy issues, body image issues, eating disorders, social media wars, teens flying across the globe, people ‘on the spectrum’—why, yes, I did think this book was a little ambitious. But did that stop me from picking it up (from a display of galleys)? Not if the cover and the author’s surname had anything to say about it. So in spite of my hesitation, I went into this book with great hope. (And my fingers crossed.)

I’m pleased to report that the author managed to sew all everything quite skillfully. The story gave me a glimpse into what goes on inside a person’s mind who has orthorexia through Clara; brought me along the highs and lows of parenting through Clara’s image-obsessed mom, distant dad and his new all-organic, super protective wife; and helped me understand a little bit more of how children who are on the spectrum of autism can be.

It even had a few surprises for me here and there, one of which is my surprising wanderlust for Paris (thanks to all those little field trips!) and the more important one which was Michel, the hot half-Algerian baker. I would say the plot was already intriguing enough and worth reading, but adding that bit of romance for Clara there certainly earned some brownie points. Plus, he also played a significant role in helping bring Clara back to understanding and appreciating food, and in being Alastair’s friend.

And speaking of Alastair, as can be predicted, he was my favorite. It was refreshing to see people and the rest of the world through his eyes, and to me, he was the perfect piece of the puzzle that made this story of acceptance, family and love complete.

“Healthy is about moderation. It is not about denying pleasure.” (Chapter 15)

 

“They’re good for your leg muscles,” I explained. “I want to have nicer legs.”
“How could they be nicer?” He looked puzzled, and scanned my legs up and down as if wondering how one could improve upon a pair of limbs. At Alastair’s age, making something nicer involved painting it or covering it in stickers.
“Well, I want them to be firmer, and ideally I would like a space here,” I said, motioning between my thighs.”
Alastair looked alarmed, and I realized that talking to a six-year-old about thigh gap was probably bad form. If he mentioned this to Mag, I’d probably be carted off to a mental health facility. Apparently health care was free here, so it would be easy. One call, and I’d be an inpatient.
“Nevermind,” I said quickly. “It’s a grown-up thing.”
“No, I want to know,” he said. “If you want a space between your legs, can’t you just stand with them apart?” (Chapter 16)

 

“Which do you think would make me look prettier?” I tossed aside the pink and grabbed the yellow dress, holding it against my shoulders.
Alastair shook his head. “I don’t understand. You’ll have the same face. Your face doesn’t change when you wear different clothes.” (Chapter 17)

 

“Can we build a world where everyone is accepted, and where no one feels they need to be something they’re not? Someone they are not?” (Chapter 20)

 

“I thought you didn’t like holding hands ,” I said, feeling his small fingers intertwine with my own.
“It’s okay if I know it’s coming,” he informed me. He paused. “I also know that you like it and I want you to feel happy.” (Chapter 23)

HOWEVER

The story can be slow-paced and confusing at times, plus there are several parts it could have done better in, such as with Alastair’s repetitive episodes and Clara’s lack of good relationships with adults.

tl;dr

On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold is a heartwarming, sometimes-funny blend of accepting differences and rebuilding families. ☁

The reviewer received a copy from Net Galley.
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