4 Stories with Awesome Autistic Protagonists

Today we announced Ada Hoffman’s forthcoming sci-fi novel The Outside, arriving in 2019 from Angry Robot Books. Because the book’s lead character has autism (Ada herself has Asperger Syndrome), the author joins us below to share five more books with awesome autistic protagonists.

Autism has become trendy on TV and in books, with autistic characters popping up in every imaginable genre, but so many of these characters are written shallowly. Played for laughs or for pity, or dependent on inaccurate stereotypes, many depictions of autism in the media leave autistic people and those who love them feeling unsatisfied.

However many other authors exist who are doing an excellent job writing autism. If you know where to look, you can find portrayals that feel real and humanizing, that go beyond stereotypes and that give their characters agency, depicting their needs as valid, whether or not the surrounding society agrees. Many of these authors are autistic themselves, and are writing from an #ownvoices perspective. Others may not be, but have done the work of researching and listening respectfully to autistic people, being willing to discard their preconceptions in order to understand autistic experiences on a deep level.

If you want to know where to find the good stuff—books from the point of view of autistic people who are three-dimensional and breathing and all-around awesome, at least in the opinion of this #ownvoices autistic author and reviewer—then here are four great places to start.

On the Edge of Goneby Corinne Duyvis
Denise is a biracial autistic girl trying to find a place on a generation ship before a comet hits the world. Duyvis’s near-future YA novel subverts the usual tropes of apocalyptic fiction, in which scarce resources are often distributed only to those judged worthy. Denise is resourceful, helpful, and often utterly overwhelmed by the difficulties of trying to arrange for her marginalized family’s survival. But rather than focusing simply on Denise’s struggle, the book builds to a wholesale re-imagining of the assumptions that underlie these kinds of fictional problems in the first place – and of what is owed, to the rest of the post-apocalyptic world, by those who survive.

Experimental Film, by Gemma Files
Lois Cairns is an undiagnosed autistic woman and the mother of a high-support autistic son, who finds her family menaced by a mysterious figure from an old film. This horror novel deals very intimately with relationships between different disabled people, internalized ableism, and the desire to push oneself to work no matter the cost. Lois is depressed and feels broken because of her neurotype, and some of her thoughts will be too close to home for some autistic readers. But the way that she begins to change over the story, and the way the disability themes come together at the story’s end, is absolutely breathtaking.

An Unkindness of Ghosts, by Rivers Solomon
Aster is a Black intersex autistic woman who lives on a theocratic generation ship. Treated as a slave because of her race and the deck where she grew up, Aster has also managed to pick up skill as a medic and connections on the upper decks. She believes she can use them – and a set of mysterious notes left by her dead mother – to tear her oppressive society down. This is a dark book in which the characters are treated brutally, but also a powerful one. For me, the nuances of how Aster’s peers deal with mental illness, neurodivergence, and trauma are especially fascinating.

Iwunen Interstellar Investigations, by Bogi Takács
Not a novel, but this novella-length web series is just too much fun not to include. Iwunen is set in the far future, on an entire planet of autistic people. The planet Eren was settled by autistic people long ago, and is also rich in magic. The magic teacher Ranai ta-n Iwunen and a mysterious, wounded stranger named Mirun are just two of the autistic inhabitants of this planet. The series is a cheerfully written romp in which both of them team up to solve space mysteries with space magic – and cupcakes. For any reader craving an adventure full of diverse autistic people and cool worldbuilding, set in an accepting fictional society without a huge weight of ableism, and with a happy ending, Iwunen is an absolute must-read.

What books with autistic protagonists do you recommend?

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