In case you are not aware, April is National Autism and Neurodiversity Acceptance Month! Which is very cool, as this is definitely something I think more people need to pay attention to. It’s estimated that between 30% and 40% of the world population is neurodivergent in some way, meaning they have at least one neurodevelopmental condition (like OCD, dyslexia, autism spectrum disorder, ADHD, or Tourettes) where their brain is wired differently than people who are neurotypical. That’s a lot of people who live in a world that’s not exactly designed for them. So it’s kind of important to bring awareness so that we can have more understanding and acceptance about how other people experience the world and why they might be different.
I have always found it fascinating reading about neurodivergent characters. I have found it has increased my empathy so much to read about different experiences in general, and it’s something I really value. Books are a great way to open your mind and experience how other people live, and I have particularly enjoyed reading about neurodivergence over the years. Turns out, I was living with undiagnosed ADHD for the first thirty-two years of my life, which is probably why I gravitated towards those characters. I’m sure many of you are also neurodivergent, so hi! Welcome!
While I probably would have written this post anyway, it was especially important to me this year since I finally know that I am officially part of this cool, creative community (who sometimes forgets things). So I wanted to share some books that I personally think helped me understand neurodiversity a bit more. Just a disclaimer: while I do have ADHD (and misophonia), I cannot speak to everyone’s experience with ADHD (we’re all different), let alone the other conditions featured on this list. If you do, feel free to share your thoughts in the comments below (keep it kind, please).
Now, onto the books!
Convenience Store Woman by Sayaka Murata
I read this book fairly recently, and found it incredibly interesting. I didn’t personally love it (I did like it, just didn’t blow me away), but I thought the neurodivergent rep in the main character was a fascinating experience to read from. It is not explicitly stated in the book, but I believe it is generally accepted that the main character, Keiko, is on the autism spectrum. It’s a bit of a sad take in that she acknowledges that she is an “exception” and “lacking” and therefore does not believe that she deserves a good life.
Honestly, I wouldn’t be surprised if a lot of neurodivergent people feel the way this character does at some point in their lives. It can be hard living in an unaccepting world that doesn’t understand you (or want to). I think the reason I didn’t love this book was that I so badly wanted better for Keiko, and found this hard to read because she doesn’t feel the same. So while I do think it’s a solid portrayal – and I love the weirdness of Japanese literature – it was a little depressing for me to read. But I still think it’s definitely worth reading since not only will it expose you to neurodiversity, it has some interesting details of Japanese culture, which is always fun.
The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy With Autism by Naoki Higashida
Speaking of Japanese literature, we have the first of two nonfiction books on this post. And probably the book that sparked my interest in exploring neurodiversity more in literature. This is a memoir by a brilliant thirteen-year-old boy with autism who just writes about how his brain works and why he does the thing he does. It is brilliantly translated by K. A. Yoshida and David Mitchell (yes, that David Mitchell).
As someone who does not have autism, I just found this to be incredibly fascinating and well done. I truly appreciated the insight into this experience, especially in the form of a memoir. While there is absolutely something to be said for seeing neurodivergent characters in fiction (representation matters!), I think books like this are also an incredibly valuable addition to the conversation. I will never know what it is like to have autism, but I can read books like this to understand better. Highly recommend this one, especially if you work with children in any capacity. It’s been a while since I’ve read this one (though I still think about it a lot), but I do recall wanting to hand this out to teachers after I’d finished it, because it did such a great job of showing what children in particular experience with autism spectrum disorder.
Act Your Age, Eve Brown by Talia Hibbert
I feel like there’s been a pretty big movement of diversity in romance novels, and I’m here for it. And the Brown Sisters series by Talia Hibbert is one I’m particularly fond of. I don’t read a ton of romance, but I do enjoy them occasionally, and this is one series I have actually come back to and completed (there is only one other romance “series” – which are just separate stories with familiar characters – that I have read more than one or two books from). I just really like these characters and their stories.
While I did really enjoy this book, it was probably my lease favorite of the series, just because the other two were so good, and I identified with those characters a bit more. However, this one is especially notable because both of the love interests in this book are on the autism spectrum, as is the author! I particularly liked how this book highlights that even autistic people can be very different – Eve is bubbly and chaotic and Jacob is grumpy and high-strung. They don’t understand each other in the beginning because they are polar opposites, even though they are both autistic. But they end up learning from each other and finding a good balance. I think this does a great job of illustrating how there is a huge range of diversity within neurodiversity and on the autism spectrum. Plus, it’s a cute romance.
Note: Helen Hoang is also an author with autism who writes characters who also have autism. I just didn’t want to overload this list with romance, and I personally enjoyed Talia Hibbert’s books more. But if you’re a romance reader, hers are worth checking out.
Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert
Yes, I had to include two books by this author, because while i think Eve’s book is important because it’s great to see a romance novel with two neurodivergent main characters, this is also a really great one. While I was not diagnosed at the time I read this (or even questioning whether or not I was neurodivergent in any way), it kind of makes sense that I identified with this book so much. Dani is an ambitious PhD student who happens to have ADHD. I really connected with her, and now I understand why – I am also an overachiever with ADHD.
I also really loved that the love interest in this book is a big, tough guy on the outside, but struggling with anxiety on the inside. And while anxiety itself is not a neurodivergence, it can be a symptom a lot of neurodivergent people struggle with because living in a world that isn’t designed for us can be very stressful. I was diagnosed with anxiety long before I was diagnosed with ADHD, but nothing worked (in fact, most of the treatments I’d tried kind of backfired). Until I was treated for ADHD and finally started to feel calm (turns out, it’s virtually impossible to relax when your brain is being loud). So I did also really appreciate this aspect of the story as well. Highly recommend this series! (I did not mention the first book, Get a Life, Chloe Brown, but it is also great in that the protagonist has a chronic illness, which is so refreshing to see in a romance novel, since I know a lot of people with chronic illness don’t get to see themselves in that way.)
Sherlock Holmes by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle
This is not canon, but it’s widely speculated that Sherlock Holmes has ADHD. There was, of course, no official diagnosis at the time this book was written, but if you’ve read the books (or watched the show), this is probably not surprising. He has quite a lot of signs of ADHD – his apartment is always a mess, he plays violin or music to help him focus, he self medicates, he hyperfocuses on tiny details no one else notices, he interrupts himself, he gets sidetracked, and he is very easily bored (just off the top of my head).
When I started doing my research for this post, and came across a few articles mentioning Sherlock having ADHD, my immediate thought was “of course he does”. Because, if I’m being totally honest, he’s probably the character on this list I identify most with. I’m not the self-medicating type (with the exception of caffeine), and I cannot play the any instruments, but the rest of it, I kind of get. You do not want to see what my desk looks like right now, and I annoy people with random facts on a regular basis. So I am definitely on board the Sherlock has ADHD train. What do you think?
Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston
I am sure you’ve all heard of Red, White, and Royal Blue by now, and many of you have read it. But did you know one of the main characters, Alex, has ADHD? It’s not explicitly written into the book, but the author (who also has ADHD) has stated that Alex has undiagnosed ADHD and was written that way. Which would explain the amount of coffee he consumes in this book. Until I was diagnosed, I also consumed an unhealthy amount of coffee to function.
Don’t worry, this is the last romance novel on this list. But I had to include it both for the representation of undiagnosed ADHD (which is relatively common) and, like the previous two books on this list, the inclusion of diversity within the neurodiverse community (Dani and Eve are both Black, Dani has a Muslim love interest, and Dani and Alex are both openly bi). Plus, they’re just really fun books.
Fun Home by Alison Bechdel
Even if you haven’t heard of this book, you might have heard of the Bechdel test (click the link to read about it if you haven’t). And yes, this is the exact same Bechdel. She is fairly well know as a cartoonist and advocacy for female representation in fiction (including books, films, and other media). She has said “the secret subversive goal of my work is to show that women, not just lesbians, are regular human beings”. Which if you think about it is kind of crazy that that isn’t already being done.
Anyway, this graphic memoir chronicles both her finding her sexuality and struggling with OCD. It’s considered part of the LGBTQ+ literature cannon, and has been a formative piece of literature for many. I personally am not part of the LGBTQ+ community, nor do I have OCD. But from the research I have done, it seems like people who do fit into those groups have said that these representations are accurate (feel free to share your experiences in the comments). Again, just a great book that shows diversity in multiple ways. Plus, it was adapted into a musical that won a Tony award, so it’s kind of a piece of pop culture at this point. In case you needed another reason to pick it up.
Down Among the Sticks and Bones AND Come Tumbling Down by Seanan McGuire
You’re probably already familiar with the Wayward Children series (I talk about it a lot on this blog, and it’s fairly popular on other platforms as well). I really love this entire series, and we are seven books in now. I don’t remember the last time I’ve made it seven books into a series, but it’s been a very long time. But I’m happy to be able to talk about these books again in this post, because not only are they really fun fantasy novellas, they feature a main character who has OCD.
I definitely recommend reading Every Heart a Doorway first, but the rest of these books can be read mostly out of order, if you are so inclined, because most of them center on different characters. I don’t personally suggest doing that because it’s fun to see certain characters make cameos, but it’s up to you. These two, however, should probably be read in this order because they follow the same two characters, Jack and Jill. Jack has OCD and struggles with it in both novels, and it’s just a really interesting detail. There is so much going on in these books that Jack’s OCD isn’t a big plot point, but it’s definitely there, and I think it was a great way to add to the representation in this series, which is already very diverse. If you like fantasy, you need to read this series.
The Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss
Patrick Rothfuss was fairly recently diagnosed with ADHD as an adult (same), which is very interesting. Obviously, he did not know this while he was writing The Name of the Wind, but I’ve seen it discussed a few places online that the character does have some ADHD qualities. can definitely see that just from what I remember, but it’s been a while, so that’s not very much. I might actually revisit this one soon just to see if I pick up on it more easily. Once I started looking into this a bit more, I also came across a post about how this book is ADHD-friendly in that it does not focus on a lot of irrelevant details like so many fantasy books do. Which would explain why I finished this book in three days.
Again, I am very curious to reread this one just to see how much I pick up on now that I also have a diagnosis and a lot more education surrounding ADHD. I think the idea of a book that isn’t necessarily about ADHD, or has an explicitly ADHD character, but is ADHD-friendly. I doubt Rothfuss did that on purpose, but maybe that’s just a side-effect of dealing with his own undiagnosed ADHD struggles. If anyone has read this book/series, share your thoughts in the comments. What do you think of books being ADHD- or neurodivergent-friendly, without necessarily being about neurodivergence?
Kindred by Octavia Butler
Finally, I had to include this book on the list, because I need to talk about this amazing book more. But also Octavia Butler, because she is amazing. Kindred was the first Butler book I’ve read (and still the only, though I am hoping to read Parable of the Sower this month). But it truly blew me away. It’s just so brilliant and creative and engrossing. So it was honestly a little bit surprising when I found out that Octavia Butler didn’t think she was smart until eighth grade. Turns out, she had undiagnosed dyslexia.
I do not have dyslexia, but I can only imagine what a challenge that would make writing a book. And Butler overcame that challenge to write multiple books. She actually achieved some pretty amazing feats with her writing, publishing fifteen novels and short story collections in her lifetime. Kindred is especially important because it is not only one of the few science fiction novels about slavery, it’s the very first sci-fi novel written by a Black woman. It’s also just a fantastic book that truly feels like it transcends genres. If you haven’t read this yet, what are you waiting for?
That’s it for this post! I hope you enjoyed it! It definitely turned out quite a bit longer than I planned, but clearly I couldn’t manage to shut up about these amazing books! Have you read any of these? Are there any you would add to this list that maybe I should be reading?
On my list for this month: Look Me In the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s by John Elder Robinson (note: Asperger’s is no longer used as a diagnosis and has been incorporated into Autism Spectrum Disorder), and Divergent Mind: Thriving in a World That Wasn’t Designed for You by Jenara Nerenberg, which is specifically for neurodivergent women who are either undiagnosed, misdiagnosed, or were diagnosed as adults and are struggling despite being able to function in society (women tend do be better at masking neurosivergency as we’re taught to conform from a young age). I did actually already read this one, and really enjoyed it. A lot of great insights in this book as to why neurodivergent women are not being diagnosed as often or taken as seriously.
I also plan on picking up books by Rivers Solomon – who has autism and regularly writes neurodivergent characters – and TJ Klune, who has ADHD.
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