Monday 26 July 2021

Ways to Be Me {Book Review}

The third in an amazing trilogy of books, Ways To Be Me is written by Libby Scott & Rebecca Westcott. Libby is an autistic 12 year old girl who went viral after her mum shared a short piece of her writing online. Scholastic books picked up on this and paired Libby with author Rebecca Westcott to create these novels. The books all include insightful diary entries written by Libby herself.
Orange book cover with title Ways to be me and authors names, and white and black cloud scribbles
Ways to Be Me is the prequel to the best selling 'Can You See Me? book and it follows Tally through her final year of primary school. Her thoughts and feelings when she receives an autism diagnosis are described in detail and explored from various angles.

Ten-year-old Tally had high hopes for year six. Being in the top class at school means there is a lot to look forward to – the most important thing being the school production. Tally is convinced she’ll win the lead role. 
But at home…. Things aren’t going so well. Mum and dad have been making Tally feel pressured and upset, and Tally wishes things didn’t bother her so much – but they do, and sometimes she feels so misunderstood and frustrated she could explode. 
Then Tally’s mum and dad tell her about something she’s never heard about before. Something called autism. And everything changes.
Tally is given a diagnosis of autism with Pathological Demand Avoidance traits and there are many references in the book to reflect this. The following paragraph gives one example:
Sometimes, people ask her to do things that she just can't do, even though they aren't things that other people think are particularly tricky. She knows exactly what can't feels like - it's like having your tummy filled up with wriggling, squirming snakes while your head explodes with tiny fireworks. Can't is the scariest feeling in the whole world, especially when everyone else thinks that it's really won't.
Tally has an older sister, Nell, and the books looks realistically at the challenges of that relationship, in terms of how Nell looks out for Tally but also finds her embarrassing and difficult to be around. The relationship between Tally and her parents is written about in detail all the way through the book and the following were some words which stood out:
She didn't mean to upset Mum and she doesn't hate her, not at all. She loves her - so much so that she doesn't know how to put it into words because there aren't enough words in the universe to describe what Mum is to Tally. She's a safe place to hide when the storm is raging, and a warm, heavy blanket when everything goes wrong.
From almost the very start of the book we also see the character of Miles, a boy in Tally's class who is perhaps more obviously different and who gets called weird because of it. It's great to see Tally's awareness of him and herself growing throughout the story, and reading about when she stands up for him could definitely inspire others.

The book also touches on the topic of masking and the idea that being yourself is a better way to be:
A quiet, tiny voice is whispering in her head that if she keeps trying to reinvent herself as someone else and she still doesn't fit in, then maybe it's about time to stop trying to be who they want her to be and start being her.
This book could make such a difference to children in terms of understanding themselves and others around them. It would be a great addition to every school library, and I think it would bring up some interesting discussions around kindness and being different. Libby describes autism as a different thought process and is keen to help other autistic children understand that there is nothing wrong with them and they are not alone.

Blue book cover with shadow of girl standing on shed and book title can you see me and authors names
Can You See Me? was the first novel published by this joint writing partnership and it begins with Tally preparing to start at a new secondary school, in Year 7. As with Ways To Be Me, this book covers life at home and at school in equal measures - and shows the impact which one can have on the other. The coke bottle effect is mentioned, something which I think a lot of parents of children with PDA identify with. Daily demands can build and build on top of each other, eventually leading to an explosion or outpouring of all the anxiety and emotion.

blue book cover with silhouette of girl on a swing and book title do you know me?
The third book, Do You Know Me? carries on where Can You See Me left off, with Tally in Year 7. It describes all the activity and emotions around a Year 7 residential trip - an event that many children look forward to, but that not all children find easy.

All the novels are a brilliant read for parents as well as children. They give an insight into events which happen throughout school and in life more generally for children with anxiety. The environment, and other children, can have such a huge impact on those who are different even though other adults might not see it. At the back of Ways To Be Me, Libby has included her top tips on how to be friends with an autistic person, such as 'don't treat us like an alien species', 'ask us what we need', 'word things differently' and 'get interested in what we love'. The final tip was my favourite though - 'Look for the treasure.'

one picture showing all three book covers together

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