Thursday, 31 March 2022

The Messed Up Life of Johnny Moore {Book review}

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The Messed Up Life of Johnny Moore is the second book written and published by Max Toper. Max is a young autistic adult who wrote about his own experiences of school in his first book 'Why is He Still Here?' (for my review of that book, visit my post Why Is He Still Here? Book Review). That book covered his later years at school and how he found solace and confidence in the online gaming world.

Yellow book cover with illustration of pre teen boy in red hoody and book title and author

This second book is a novel that tells the story of Johnny, a eleven year old autistic boy who is about to begin Year 7 in an autism provision within a mainstream placement. It explains how the autism provision was intended to guide young people with autism into the mainstream school, in the hope of them achieving academic success, like the rest of their peers. It goes on to describe how the provision was in its own part of the school, sheltered away from everything else. For pupils who couldn’t handle the mainstream environment, it provided a safe space to return to after class and somewhere to return to if they felt overwhelmed. 

Johnny has a teaching assistant accompanying him to classes and the novel explores how this was good in some respects, with Johnny becoming great friends with the assistant, Maurice, but also how having Maurice around meant that Johnny stuck out 'like a sore-thumb'. The other children knew Johnny was autistic and part of the provision, and therefore they didn't see Johnny as being on the same level as them.

Max had in mind a target audience of pre-teens for this novel; those on the spectrum and also those who are neurotypical. I came across this quote from Max and thought it was very insightful: 

"It is reading about the experiences of others, fictional or non-fictional, and then the takeaway from said experiences that enhances our worldview for better or worse. And, if young people can learn from Johnny’s story, fictional as it may be, perhaps they will develop a more well-rounded and understanding personality."

{Back cover text reads: 

Running Away can only take you so far.

Johnny hates school. He's the weird autistic kid who got thrown out two years ago, and everyone knows. Try as he might, nothing ever seems to work out for him. So he gave up, hoping to flee education forever. But now after so long, the place he hates most has finally caught up with him.

Except this time, Johnny's in a lot more trouble. Because his new school is nothing like before. It's massive, flooded with screaming kids, and he's become the latest prey of a deadly bully...

The question is, will he survive or crumble under pressure?}

In an interview given about the writing of this book, Max stated "I'm sure you will agree (I have in fact experienced this first hand,) "neurotypical children," often find it hard to relate and become friends with their "autistic peers." Thus I've created the book with a KS2 audience in mind, in the hopes its titular protagonist will provide them with a window into someone else's shoes.

I strongly believe a grounded story with relatable scenarios is far more likely to result in its reader developing a sense of empathy for the protagonist. (And hopefully leaving the book with a sense of greater empathy overall!) This is also true for child-readers, who are searching for a character they can see themselves in. (Especially in these difficult times.)"

This book is brilliantly written and could be a great introduction to autism for some children who otherwise may not hear of it. It could also be helpful for young autistic children who may think they are the only ones who think this way, and it could also be perfect for adults who might better learn the kind of feelings that these sorts of 'othering' situations can cause for children, particularly children who are unable to express their thoughts easily. I highly recommend The Messed Up Life of Johnny Moore, available on Amazon now.

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