Book Review: Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass

Title: Ellen Outside the Lines

Author: A.J. Sass

Genre: Middle Grade Realistic Fiction

Number of Pages: 336

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes


Ellen is a thirteen-year-old Jewish girl on the autism spectrum who’s going on a class trip to Barcelona. Dealing with overstimulation and her growing distance from her best-and-only friend Laurel, Ellen is also discovering identity as a young gay woman.

Her teachers pair her up with three unfamiliar kids for a scavenger hunt and Ellen struggles to cope with the changes imposed upon her, but she ends up unexpectedly befriending them and developing a crush on her non-binary classmate Isa. Then a stupid mistake threatens to ruin everything, and Ellen has to fight to keep her new friendships.

This is my first book by A.J. Sass, who is himself on the spectrum and goes by he/him and they/them pronouns. He wrote another book with themes of gender identity (Ana on the Edge), but I haven’t read it yet. Ellen Outside the Lines was an entertaining coming-of-age story with strong ASD representation.

Sass portrays Ellen’s social awkwardness and moments of sensory overload in a way that is engaging and sympathetic, without being heavy-handed. I did feel like some of the non-binary stuff felt pretty on-the-nose, with Isa behaving as an adult explaining things to the other kids (and the reader.)

The trouble Ellen gets in with Isa and the other kids (when she accidently outs her gay friend) was thoroughly believable and I understood how it could happen, as well as why the group got so mad at her. It was a very plausible situation, especially with Ellen’s difficulty with social cues and I knew she didn’t do it with bad intentions.

Ellen’s parents were cool and I totally related to her love of lists, even though I don’t think mine are nearly as well-organized as hers. As someone who’s never traveled to Barcelona (or even left the U.S.) some of the descriptions of different places and landmarks were lost on me. I had trouble picturing some of it but it was the relationships in this book that stood out, not so much the setting or the travel elements. Overall it’s a good read and empathetic look at young people on the spectrum.

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