In One Word

In One Word, A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll is…

a kind of spark

  • First published in 2020 by Knights of Media
  • Format: Audiobook
    • Narrator: Emma Tracey
    • Listening Speed: 1.2x
  • Reading Time: 6 electric days


  • Picked this up on Audible a while ago simply because I loved the premise and I managed to find a place for it for the ‘dreamy cover’ prompt on the Be Sure Athon. This follows the story of Addie, an autistic girl who lives in the small village of Juniper (which the residents insist is so near Edinburgh that’s practically part of it) and is facing a lot of challenges in the coming school year. She has the meanest teacher in the school as a teacher and her ‘best friend’ has decided she likes hanging out with a bully more than Addie. Addie feels things deeply so, when she hears of how women who were different were persecuted as ‘witches’, she cannot stand the idea of them being unremembered. She starts campaigning for a memorial in her village but people don’t want to hear it. Addie isn’t going to give up, though, because she sees herself in the witches and knows they need someone to speak up for them.
  • Outstanding main character in Addie. She feels things deeply and cares a lot about the people around her. Unfortunately, it seems that a lot of the people around her don’t care as deeply as she does. She had a good instinct but not always the right answers. She does fall into thought traps and try to change herself to suit other people without meaning to. You can see how much effort it takes out of her to do what she knows has to be done but you can also see her kind heart and determination to push through her difficulties shining through. I promise that you will be cheering for her all the way.
  • Wonderful touch that they made the conversations between Addie and Keedie, the two autistic girls, the most honest, memorable and poignant conversations in the book. There are a lot of scenes (one particularly springs to mind that takes place during a family dinner) where the neurotypicals do a lot of talking but not a lot of communicating. Addie’s parents were particular guilty of talking without communicating and I love the way the author shows it in small talk where it couldn’t be clearer that they aren’t interested in hearing the honest answer. They just want to act like they’re having a meaningful conversation rather than actually having one.
  • Excellent narration with effortless switches between voices and accents and a wonderful style with some great memorable quotes. The only reason why I read this so slowly wasn’t because I didn’t like it. On the contrary, I took it so slow because it affected me so deeply that I couldn’t take in too much of it at once.
  • Really good job at giving the reader information about autism. It gets a little close to info-dumping in places but just managed to stop shy of it. It also did a good job of showing all the stupid or outdated things neurotypical things say about it (e.g. ‘you don’t look autistic’) and explaining why it’s so offensive.
  • Fabulous job with the ‘villain’ of the story – Miss Murphy, who should not be allowed near any children, let alone autistic children. I put ‘villain’ in quotation marks because she isn’t a one-dimensional bully. She’s a three-dimensional bully. The book mentions she has a hard life outside school and chooses to take it out on students she doesn’t like. She is clearly a teacher who has been doing her job only one way all her life and cannot stand any child who can’t to be taught that way. She’s horrible but is even more horrible because she’s so believable. I could easily imagine her working at a school today and getting away with what she does. The book also does an excellent job of portraying false friends and how easily people can let popularity get to their heads at the expense of someone on the outskirts who really needs a friend. It never makes those people look bad to the core, just misguided and as easily swayed as a leaf in the wind.
  • Unparalleled in showing up all the excuses around the witch hunts of the past. Historians love to describe the witch hunts as a product of the past and as a result of ignorance/superstition that can’t happen now. However, without making it too obvious, the book shows them up as excuses and not just in how people treat Addie. There was a good scene where a character, who was previously portrayed as nice, does something to a recluse that, though small and innocent, could build into harassment. It was small but it perfectly showed how ‘innocent fun’ can be anything but if the perpetrator doesn’t think about how it’s affecting the other person or lets their own feelings get in the way of their empathy.
  • Left us with an ending that was surprisingly realistic with a nice helpful of subtle satire for a middle grade novel and that made it all the more satisfying. I would certainly recommend it to any autistic reader or anyone who wants a real insight into what being an autistic person living in a world that isn’t made for them is like.

Goodreads Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

Did you agree with my rating? Can you think of a better word to describe it? Please let me know with a like, share or comment.

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