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Let me tell you the story of the girl who lost her love of reading…

I was always the child that was different. Always the child that was “other”. I didn’t fit in with my peers – no matter how hard I tried. That was always the adults answer; “It’s your fault that nobody likes you, you need to try harder to be the same”. “Try harder to not be bullied”. Yet, nobody ever told me how to be the same. I was told to try harder and not given any further instructions on how.

So I read. I lost myself in the worlds created by authors. Characters that spoke to me. Characters that mirrored some of my own traits and characters that I wished I could be more like. Yet when I tried to mimic the characters, the speech patterns and social behaviours; it never worked out. I just gained myself a reputation of being even more odd.

As I grew up I started to notice traits in characters that were mentally ill that were intimately familiar to me. After a psychiatric admission in my teens I would seek out books with MC that were mentally ill. I was still searching for “sameness”. Despite reading mostly fiction, I was searching still for that answer of how to make myself fit in the world. How to make the world make sense. Eventually I realised that the MC only experienced mental illness as a plot device or a redemption (recovery) arc.

I moved onto memoirs. I guess the people who don’t recover tend not to write their memoirs. This didn’t occur to me at the time and I just assimilated it as more evidence of how broken I was.

The final nail in the coffin of my love of reading…chick lit. I’d moved into this genre for light and airy escape from the world, which by now had become a dark and almost hopeless place for me. Except, all the books seemed to run on these lines. Unhappy with life (crappy job, relationship, debt). Sudden good fortune in the form of a lottery win or death of a distant relative leaving property. Relocation and struggle to turn things around, while magically making friends with strangers and a hunky man turning up. Falling in love, fixed by man, living happily ever after. These books were sometimes hilarious reads, and I would be completely immersed in their worlds. Yet afterwards I would be left with a hollow, sad, emptiness in the pit of my stomach. Even if these worlds were real, someone like me would never fit into them.

I lost my love of reading part way through one of these books. It’s still sitting on the vanity in the bathroom, waiting to be finished in a bath. It’s been sitting there for over a year.

Now, let me tell you about the book that brought it back…

Woman lying back on a rucksack in the countryside, completely absorbed in reading The Hoodlum Army

Earlier this year I was scrolling through my Twitter feed when I saw a tweet about a LGBT+ Neurodivergent RomCom. The first sentence of the blurb had me hooked;

Robin never thought she’d meet the girl of her dreams in a bank, much less when they were both robbing it, but her mother always said to find someone who shares your interests.

Elizabeth Roderick – The Hoodlum Army (2019)

Twitter provides a lense into other peoples worlds, just from their pinned tweet (a resource thread on psychosis and saneism) the authors first hand experience of being different, of having a different brain; and advocating for the widespread acceptance of this as fact. Different, not better or worse, just not the same. I knew that this would be a book unlike any I had read before. I instantly responded to the tweet; “I need this book, I need it now, where can I get it?”. Not that I’m demanding or anything.

Can you imagine my disappointment at being told that the book wasn’t being released until 9th July 2019? I was so worried that I would forget it!

When Elizabeth Roderick tweeted that The Hoodlum Army was available to pre-order I hopped straight over to Amazon to be sure that I wouldn’t forget and I could get a hold of the book that I was longing to read. A quirk in the programming meant that I was able to order and receive the book in Paperback that day (well next day delivery, but you know what I mean).

The Hoodlum Army was everything I’d hoped for and more.

For the first time in my life I saw myself represented in characters and not purely as a comedic device or something to be fixed. I saw characters needing to set alarms to remind them to take their meds. I saw characters who were unsure if they were being teased. I saw characters who did not typically fit into society living the lives that they wanted. I saw people unashamedly ask for help when they needed it.

I felt validated.

I felt like a complete human rather than a broken human that needed fixing.

There is a power in seeing yourself represented in such an ordinary fashion that cannot be underestimated. So much so that the moment I finished reading this book I asked Ms Roderick if there were others in her back catalogue with a similar feel because I could not wait for more! That love for reading was back; and now I knew that what I needed were books that didn’t represent my differences as a tragedy, or a savant strength, but just as an ordinary way of being.

Everybody needs to read this book

Even if you don’t find yourself represented in any of the characters, chances are that someone you know will be. So often mental illness and neurodivergence are seen as tragedies because of the way we don’t quite fit with the rest of the world. Even when we try really, really hard to mask our differences and fit in, it’s as though we vibrate with a different energy and our “otherness” is still obvious.

If you are represented yourself, then it is important for you to see us in this light where we are not special, or broken humans in need of fixing. We just are, and it’s okay for us to just exist, even when that means taking meds regularly to manage some symptoms appropriately.

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