Hello, Bookish Buddies, and welcome to my review of On the Spectrum by Jennifer Gold. I was going to post this earlier, but then spontaneous napping happened and you can’t really help that. Anyway, I’m going to try a little bit of a new format for my reviews. Let me know what you think of it! For those of you who aren’t familiar with On the Spectrum, here is the Goodreads synopsis:
Growing up in the shadow of a famous mother, Clara has never felt good about her body. Now, at sixteen, she has an unhealthy obsession with healthy eating. After a social media disaster, she decides to escape for the summer to Paris to stay with her estranged dad and her six-year-old brother, Alastair, who is on the autism spectrum. Charged with his care, Clara and Alastair set out to explore the city. Paris teaches Clara about first love and gives her a new love of food. And Alastair teaches Clara about patience, trust and the beauty of loving without judgment.
*DISCLAIMER: I personally did not enjoy this book, but I mean no disrespect to the author and everyone involved with the publication of this book*
Clara’s mother has been body shaming her since she could walk, basically. Now, at sixteen, she has developed an eating disorder which she calls “clean living,” but is actually a serious disorder called orthorexia that even I haven’t heard of until I read this book, and I’ve been trained to counsel people with eating disorders. It is a real thing, though. After some random guy decides to be an ass and roast her on social media which is entirely unrealistic and is basically ignored for the rest of the book, she has a breakdown and is forced to spend her summer in Paris with her dad, stepmom, and brother. Poor thing. As her brother is on the autism spectrum, she is daunted by the task of venturing around Paris with him. Paris teaches Clara basically nothing, especially not a love of food, she gains at least some insight into her mental health because of her supportive family. Alistair teaches Clara the lesson that she’s actually kind of annoying, which is apparent to the reader in the first chapter.
Why I Gave Stars
- A gold star for Alistair! I loved him. He was so adorable, he had such a distinct personality, and he was funny in all of the right moments. I personally don’t know too much about autism, but I feel like it brought a lot of light to his disorder and successfully humanized his character aside from the disorder.
- A gold star to Jennifer Gold for bringing a lot of light to certain disorders. I hadn’t known about orthorexia before I read this book, and it seems really normalized in Los Angeles culture. That’s a serious issue. On the Spectrum also brought light to autism, and even a little bit of the underlying racism in western society.
- 1/4 of a gold star for the kind of redeeming ending? There were a lot of issues with this book, and I’ll get to those in a second, but Gold got the underlying point across: you can’t fix mental health disorders without professional help. However, there is a reason which this isn’t a full star, which I shall address now.
Why I Deducted Stars
- Minus 3/4 of a star for all of the unrealistic messages sent. Throughout the story, Clara begins to “recover” from her eating disorder, and it seems that even Alistair “recovers” in a way from his autism. I mean, yeah, props to Clara for making progress, but the amount of progress Clara made in such a short time with her disorder without actually realizing there was a problem was entirely unrealistic. The same goes for Alistair and his autism symptoms. Alistair can get more adjusted to sensory stimulus, but it is entirely unlikely that he would venture so far out of his comfort zone and make so much progress in so little time.
- Minus one star for the terrible message about conformity this story sends. You see, Alistair is being bullied in school by some psychopathic kindergarteners for his autism, and instead of stepping up to be the role model one would expect Clara to become, she teaches Alistair that conformity is the better solution. She even convinces her stepmom of the same thing. That self preservation is more important than your individuality. Her stepmom, Mag, shares how, as a child, she was bullied like Alistair, and that conforming to the bullies norms would’ve saved her ass. That really freaking sucked.
- Speaking of Clara, I didn’t like her at all. Minus one star for her. Throughout the book, she was rude to others, acted like she deserved pity for having to spend the summer in Paris, and was outright judgmental. I personally never felt attached to her whatsoever. I kind of hoped terrible things would befall her. I mean, they did, but she was so undeserving of her love interest, who really didn’t need to get caught up in any of this. Not to mention that this was a terrible case of instalove, but there are so many other issues with this book that I don’t feel the need to talk more about that. Actually, yes I do. Michel, the love interest, was a total token black character. I’m done now. Overall, I didn’t see much development on any of the points that I mentioned before, and that, plus the lack of research on orthorexia itself, really ruined this book for me.
Overall, if you’re looking for a book to learn more about eating disorders and/or autism, or you want a light fluffy read in Paris, I would suggest you pick up a different book.