Title: The Extraordinary
Author: Brad Schaeffer
Genre: Contemporary Fiction
Number of Pages: 240
Warning: This review contains spoilers
I can barely even find the words for how angry this book made me. It’s such a destructive, ableist piece of shit with a terrible message and what really sucks is that I was actually looking forward to it. It had a lot of potential, and the author just squanders it.
The Extraordinary is narrated by Wesley, a fourteen-year-old boy with severe autism. Wesley observes everything that is going on around him but people assume he’s significantly developmentally disabled because of his behavior. When his dad, the only person in his family who believes in him, comes back from the Iraq war with no legs the already dysfunctional family implodes.
There’s no subtlety to this story. 95% of it is Wesley’s parents and siblings having insane, over-the-top domestic disputes where Wesley is invariably painted as a burden and a vegetable. Everything is stated in a really on-the-nose and repetitive way, leaving no room for the reader to make inferences. The fights escalate to domestic abuse that feels like a sordid melodrama, with guns being pulled and Wesley being beaten by his drunk brother.
Wesley is basically the stock autistic character, with a love of numbers and counting and a hatred of being touched and having his routine interrupted. How original! He barely has a single personality trait that’s not consistent with a basic overview of ASD. He’s also wildly inconsistent. Somehow, he’s full of deep and profound thoughts about his family and their individual struggles; yet he doesn’t know what ‘suicide’ and ‘9/11’ are. He’s a brilliant savant most of the time but becomes completely ignorant when the plot requires him to be.
The worst part of this book is how it justifies Wesley being abused when his family thinks he’s ‘low-functioning,’ yet when they realize how intelligent he is they have a complete turn-around and all is forgiven. Let me make it perfectly clear that treating somebody like complete shit because you think they have a low IQ and aren’t all that aware of what’s going on around them is not okay.
I understand how hard Wesley’s family has it, but the way he’s treated (especially by his mom and his brother) is absolutely reprehensible. Then his mom turns into some kind of wonder parent, and all is well when she realizes what’s really going on in Wesley’s head. I hated her and I hated the idea the author seemed to be pushing that what she did to Wesley was acceptable or even forgivable.
There’s even a quote where a character says they can’t believe Wesley was so ‘alive’ all this time. The whole thing is a disaster. The sentimentality is also hard to stomach, and the lack of any kind of nuance doesn’t help matters. The ending is so treacly sweet (as opposed to the rest of the book, which is pure tragedy porn) that I cringed and suffered and then rejoiced when the whole thing was finished. I never would have finished it if I hadn’t pushed myself so I could write a full review. There are so many good books about characters with ASD out there, and not all of them are #ownvoices but they aren’t wildly offensive and tone-deaf like this novel.