Saturday 27 January 2018

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Review: The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen

The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni IngemundsenThe Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen (proof) - Meet Malin, a fourteen-year-old who sees the world differently. Malin knows she couldn’t change much about her life, even if she got to play God. Her dad would still yell all the time – especially as Malin is still friends with Hanna, the girl she met shoplifting. Her mum would still say a glass of wine is good for her heart – and Mum needs it, with Malin’s brother, Sigve, getting into trouble all the time. And Malin would still be Malin. Because she can’t be anybody else.

In a voice bursting with immediacy and truth, Malin shares the absurdities of growing up and fitting in as her family struggles with the buried pain of mistakes made and secrets kept.

Profound, compassionate and as funny as it is dark, Malin’s story is an offbeat examination and celebration of the brutal, bizarre and beautiful unpredictability of being human.
From Goodreads.

The Unpredictability of Being Human by Linni Ingemundsen is a book I've wanted to read ever since I heard it was about a girl with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). And while it was a captivating and enjoyable read, I've finished it with mixed feelings.

The Unpredictability of Being Human is very much a coming of age story. It follows Malin during a specific period in her life when things change. There's not so much of a plot to the story, it's more a snapshot of her life during this time of change. She makes a new friend, she starts to become a bit more interested in boys, her mum goes away on a "business trip" for quite a long time, secrets that have caused the family a lot of pain come to light, and, although she's never fit in or really had friends, the bullying is stepped up when she retaliates after someone steals something from her - though maybe not in the best way. There is an innocence to Malin, and she takes things at face value, not really understanding that she's being lied to and played with, until it's too late. It's quite heartbreaking when we, the readers, know where things are going to go, because Malin doesn't understand that people are being conniving and fake, but are powerless to stop it.

Despite there not being a real plot, I was captivated by Malin's voice. I was rooting for her when she made a friend in Hanna, who treated her, mostly, well, when no-one else at school did, and also when it looks like things might work out with a boy she likes. And loved her relationship with her cousin, Magnus; how they were close, and he didn't treat her like he would anyone else, unlike everyone else. But was also so sad when people took advantage of her because she's so guileless, and doesn't understand that people are lying to her to get her to do things. And I also wished her family would stop lying to her. Because she's not stupid, she would understand if she was just told the truth and had things explained to her, she would be fine. But instead is treated like she wouldn't understand, so lie to her to make things easier for her, when it's not necessary. It was also kind of sad that she would find bottles of wine in strange places around the house, like the tumble dryer, and not think anything of it, and that her father shouting and yelling all the time, and occasionally punching a wall, is normal and nothing to worry about. But it's great to see how she learns through the book, as she comes to understand things, and how things in her life get better.

I also loved how The Unpredictability of Being Human was set in Norway, where Ingemundsen is from. I loved all the little elements that made this book stand out from other YA novels, which are mostly set in the US or the UK; the names of the characters, some of the words used occasionally, and the mention of how Malin had never been out of Scandinavia. Being set in Norway just gave the book that little bit something extra, that made it even more interesting.

My main problem is that I only know that Malin has undiagnosed ASD because the publicist told me so. It doesn't come up at all in the book. Towards the end of the book, where things were going in a certain direction, I though she might get a diagnosis then, but no. As the book is from the perspective of Malin, we, the readers, are aware that she might be neurodiverse, because of the things she misses that are quite obvious to us - for example, that her mum is an alcoholic. From the other characters treatment of her, it's clear that they know she's "different"; when her mum goes to rehab, Malin is told her mum is going on a business trip, though a strange one where you can't call her at first, and she can't can't come back until 90 days later, or have visitors. She's also called stupid by various people and a moron by her older brother, and she's bullied for being different. But having ASD is never mentioned in any way. And this worries me slightly. I am all for a character having ASD where the story isn't about having ASD, but 1) I think it will make it difficult for people with ASD, who are looking for books with characters like them, to find this book, because it's not even mentioned in the blurb, and 2) I worry that the lack of even one mention of Malin having ASD may cause readers to judge her, because they don't understand. I don't think this is an unnecessary worry, as I've already seen one review of someone saying Malin seemed younger than 14, and was annoyed at Malin, thought she was naive and did stupid things - the reader obviously didn't pick up on the fact that she has undiagnosed ASD, and judged her. I just think it would have been better if she had a diagnosis, whether it was right at the end, or, if she had the diagnosis before the book even started, and it could be mentioned that Malin has ASD, what that means, and that's it, the story continued without mentioning it again, because it's not the point of the story. But to not mention it at all feels like a disservice to those with ASD, I feel.

Despite this, I still really enjoyed the story, and getting to know Malin. I loved seeing her life, and seeing things improve for her, even if it broke my heart to see things get worse for a while.

ETA: It has been brought to my attention that it's rarer for women and girls to be diagnosed with ASD, and is harder to identify. However, even though this is the reality, I do still think it would have been better for Malin to have been diagnosed for those readers who are looking for representation, and also for those who have yet to be diagnosed, so they could maybe have recognised themselves in Malin, which may have helped them get an earlier diagnosis.

ETA 2: The Unpredictability of Being Human has been reviewed by Cait of Paper Fury over on Goodreads. Cait herself has Autism, and talks about how good the rep is, but she also had some of the same issues I did.

Thank you to Usborne for the proof.

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Published: 28th December 2017
Publisher: Usborne
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