Odd Girl Out: An Autistic Woman in a Neurotypical World, by Laura James
Published by Bluebird, 6th April 2017
Genres: Nonfiction, memoir, autobiography, mental health
Source: Purchased (second-hand)
Laura James always knew that she was different. From childhood, she struggled to fit in and to cope with the world around her. A world which seemed too harsh, loud and bright, but which everyone else seemed to live in quite happily. Not until she is forty does she find out that she is in fact autistic. But as Laura struggles to come to terms with her diagnosis, she must also navigate her work and family lives and try to find a way to be herself.
I don’t have any personal experience of autism and I don’t know anyone who is on the spectrum, so I admit that I know very little about it. That is why I loved this book so much. I really appreciated James’ frank honesty in describing what life is like for her and how she experiences the world. Before reading this, I had no idea of the many obstacles facing an autistic person on a daily basis.
I was also astounded to learn how different the perception of autism is between men and women. For instance, 42% of autistic women have previously been misdiagnosed. How can that be? Throughout her own journey of discovery about autism, James spoke to many professionals and learned that young girls are often much better at “hiding” their symptoms. They are more likely to just observe their peers and mimic their behaviours. And I guess it also circles back to the fact that women are often disbelieved when they approach medical professionals for help.
Anyway, back to the book! I really enjoyed James’ writing style, her honesty and her charming humour in the face of difficult circumstances. Another aspect that I found very interesting was the flashbacks woven into the text. These moments from James’ past were really evocative and allow a deeper understanding of the symptoms and struggles of a neurodivergent person.
Although this is a book about autism, this is also a book about books. And how books can be a lifeline for anyone going through difficult times. I myself can really relate to the idea of burying yourself in a book to avoid facing the real world. For Laura James, books were an essential way of coping with the world around her and described her happy place as a library. Which I love!
“When I have occasionally been asked to imagine myself in a calm, peaceful space, I don’t think of lying on a sandy beach listening to the waves roll in or sitting at the top of a mountain. Instead, I try to conjure up the feeling of being in a London library of the early 1980s”.
If you want to learn more about autism, or if someone close to you has been diagnosed and you would like to understand them better, I cannot recommend this book enough. I read it as part of my 2021 Reading Challenge, for the prompt “a book by a neurodivergent author”, and I am really glad I picked this one.
My rating: 5/5