"Girl Vs the World" Shows a Black Autistic Girl Surviving and Thriving

Kyla Alleyne’s Girl Vs the World begins with a sixteen-year-old Black girl named Lucy getting diagnosed with Asperger’s, a form of autism.

Not long after, Lucy transfers to a new school and must adjust to the change. From there, Lucy must navigate new friends, some bullying, her first crush, and an unexpected family development as she experiences her final year of high school.

One of the best parts of this book, while somewhat flawed, was Lucy, the protagonist. She is likable enough; she’s kind, friendly, and dreams of going to culinary arts school. She cooks a lot for her family and friends, and it was nice to see the kinds of foods she makes as the book develops. Sometimes, she is a little too perfect. Although she experiences hardship, she maneuvers through it easily, which can make it hard for readers who want a deeper character arc to connect to her.

In fact, the lack of conflict with Lucy extends to almost every character in the book. When Lucy befriends Becca and Ashley at her new school, I had expected them to bully her because they were popular and rich. Instead, they are friendly to Lucy right away. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can be considered a pleasant subversion of the “mean girl” trope common in young adult books. It would’ve been interesting, however, for them to have a deeper friendship beyond Lucy confiding in them and Lucy baking for them, especially since Becca and Ashley seem to be neurotypical and Lucy isn’t. If Becca and Ashley had a conversation or two about Lucy’s Asperger’s that was supportive, or if they had joined Lucy in her baking, their friendship would’ve been more emotional and effective for the reader.

There is better characterization of Lucy’s love interest, Alex; Lucy’s dad, Nathan; and a minor character, Lucy’s counselor, Mrs. Barlowe. Lucy is friends with Alex before they start dating, though the reader doesn’t know much about him other than that he is a blond star athlete. As time passes, he is shown to be a bit judgmental of others and has some issues communicating honestly with Lucy. At one point, he calls a girl who Lucy befriends “weird,” and I wondered why he didn’t consider Lucy weird for her Asperger’s. It’s unclear whether she ever tells him about it, which I found strange, since she told her friends.

As for Lucy’s dad, he is a great father who is supportive of his daughter’s dreams and receptive to her feelings. One highlight of their bond is when Lucy’s mom gets angry at Lucy for telling her friends about her Asperger’s diagnosis and her dad listens to Lucy without invalidating her feelings or her mom’s concerns. While the pacing of an unexpected development with Lucy’s dad could’ve had better pacing, it resonated with me emotionally.

Lucy’s counselor, finally, provides guidance in a way that doesn’t discredit Lucy’s experiences and make her Asperger’s seem like something unnatural. Given how some people try to “cure” autistic people, this was really affirming to see as a neurodivergent person. In her first session, Lucy tells Ms. Barlowe about a party she wants to attend, and Ms. Barlowe advises her, “Don’t let anyone force you to do anything you don’t want to. If you don’t feel safe, you can leave.”

The characterization of Lucy and the other characters could’ve been stronger is if there were more showing and less telling. At many moments, I felt I was reading a summary of what happened to Lucy instead of experiencing what was happening to her. This might make it hard for some readers to emotionally connect to Lucy.

All in all, this was a quick and mostly sweet read. It fits well alongside Jaire Sims’s Getting By, another book with a Black autistic teen protagonist. While the character development and pacing could’ve been stronger, this story was pleasant in that it showed a Black autistic girl enjoying her life while enduring tough times. If you liked Getting By, then you’ll feel right at home with this book.

Girl Vs the World was released October 6, 2022.

 

The Afro YA promotes black young adult authors and YA books with black characters, especially those that influence Pennington, an aspiring YA author who believes that black YA readers need diverse books, creators, and stories so that they don’t have to search for their experiences like she did.

Latonya Pennington is a poet and freelance pop culture critic. Their freelance work can also be found at PRIDE, Wear Your Voice magazine, and Black Sci-fi. As a poet, they have been published in Fiyah Lit magazine, Scribes of Nyota, and Argot magazine among others.

Top photo by Ron Lach