Title: Same But Different- Teen Life on the Autism Express
Author(s): Holly Robinson Peete, Ryan Elizabeth Peete, & R.J. Peete
Genre: YA Autobiographical Fiction
Number of Pages: 224
Same But Different is an autobiographical account of a family’s experience with autism, and although you can tell the writers have their hearts in the right place it still manages to fall short in almost every regard. The father in the family is a NFL football player and the mother is an actress, which explains it’s publication. It’s hard to imagine it seeing the light of day otherwise. Ryan Elizabeth and her twin brother R.J. (who has mild-to-moderate autism) are called ‘Callie’ and ‘Charlie,’ and the book alternates their perspectives. The writing style is so infuriatingly simple and first-grader could easily read it, and it lacks any kind of detail and nuance. It just feels so fake, with a total lack of convincing emotion.
Obviously writing isn’t Ryan Elizabeth or R.J.’s strong point, and it seems like they’re trying to create a basic high school angst narrative in the most cliched way possible. Their narratives also feel identical and their personality traits don’t extend beyond ‘Charlie’ having autism and ‘Callie’ being the neurotypical sibling who resents her special needs brother for dominating her life. I’m so sick of these narratives of the neurotypical sibling having to learn to tolerate the kid with the disability.
I understand that a lot of sibling relationships follow this dynamic but it feels as if the same story is essentially being told over and over again. I’m sure there’s a lot more to the siblings’ real-life relationship but none of that was conveyed here. I don’t know how much of this story was true but some of the things ‘Callie’ says about her brother are just awful. Here are a few highlights:
I wish I wasn’t a twin.
I wish my brother didn’t exist.
I wish my brother was normal and didn’t embarrass me all the time.
I wish my brother wasn’t… messed up, an embarrassment, weird (she even refers to him as ‘spastic’ at one point.)
As someone on the autistic spectrum I can’t imagine how attitudes like this could be any less than devastating to the person who happens to have ‘all the issues.’ I had to wonder how R.J. felt about this and if reading how his sister felt about him was painful. I hate the idea that I could be a burden to my loved ones, and here Ryan Elizabeth is laying some of her most negative feelings about her brother right out there for the world to see. I’m always up for reading books that focus on ASD, but this lame effort was poorly written and depressing… and not in a good way.