Edmonton author, Lorna Schultz Nicholson, has created a young adult novel, Fragile Bones, that brings voice to the challenging subject of autism, and the impact it has on the individual, family and friends. Fragile Bones is also the first book in the series, One-2-One, from Clockwise Press (Ontario) whose “mission is to publish high-quality young adult and children’s books featuring themes of diversity, inclusion and global awareness.” Each book in the series will tell the story of a different pair of teens participating in the Best Buddies program at Sir Winston Churchill Secondary School. Best Buddies is, in fact, an existing non-profit international organization whose aim is to “provide meaningful friendships and leadership opportunities for individuals with intellectual and developmental difficulties”.
The pair of teens in Fragile Bones is Harrison, a fifteen-year-old, Grade 10 student with high functioning autism; and, Anna, an academic senior who wants to expand her knowledge and add to her resume for medical school.
Harrison’s autism manifests itself in repetitive activity. When he becomes anxious he repeats all 206 bones of the human body. He has obsessions with germs, the damage that high heeled shoes inflict on the human foot, and he often misinterprets social situations. Harrison’s family are supportive, but less able to be there for him as he navigates the teen world, and high school social scene, so encourage his participation in Best Buddies.
Anna joins the program to improve her resume, and in the process discovers much about herself and her world. Her initial approach is to do as much research as possible on autism, but finds that the true learning comes through the ups and downs of her relationship with Harrison, as she tries to help him navigate new social experiences. She discovers that “the real world is a lot harder than the book world”.
Harrison and Anna’s stories are told in alternating chapters. Often the same event (e.g. the Hallowe’en Dance) is told from each character’s point of view, and the voice of each is significant. Harrison’s voice is straightforward, prosaic and blunt in keeping with his literal view of the world. Anna represents the more typical voice of the academic senior, with an over-achieving mother, girl friend issues, and a budding romance. Anna helps plan club activities that will give their “buddies” good social opportunities, and is outraged when Harrison is the victim of bullying, and when she discovers that her boyfriend’s sister committed suicide as a result of the bullying she suffered because of her differences.
Schultz Nicholson explores a complicated and complex subject with sensitivity and concern, developing realistic, believable characters that convey the complexities of autism, and the challenges of coping in a high school setting.
Themes of inclusion, individual differences, peer relationships, family dynamics and bullying are woven throughout the plot. Sensitive junior and senior high students will empathize with both Harrison and Anna as each grows and matures in his/her own way.