YA Review: Rogue

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I just finished reading a book entitled Rogue by a fellow writer Lyn Miller-Lachmann. Lyn writes for PEN American blog and other media. In this book she is writing about a character Kiara who has Asperger’s syndrome. The portrayal is tender and authentic and somewhat drawn from her own experiences of “not fitting in” when she was in school. The plot is face paced, the dialogue direct and sometimes graphic, when called for. Lyn artistically incorporates a comic book theme in the story that is sure to entertain young readers as well as Kiara’s and her hard won friends’ penchant for BMX and mountain biking. As a previous therapist who worked with kids and adults with Aspbergers and autism, I believe Lyn’s middle grade novel rings true.

Please tell me some of the obstacles you faced while writing this story about a person with Asperger’s syndrome. In particular, did you feel a weighted responsibility to depict a character who people with Asperger’s might consider realistic?

My biggest obstacle in writing this story was coming to terms with the person I was as a child and a teenager. Novels for young people have to feature likable main characters, and very few people liked me then for reasons I never quite understood at the time. My Asperger’s diagnosis answered a lot of those questions about why I had so much trouble making and keeping friends. On the one hand, I wanted to write a novel about someone like myself, so that young people going through the same things today will know they are not alone. I wanted to give these young people who struggle with their differences some sort of understanding and hope—the hope lying in the fact that they have unique and important perspectives and talents that can make them valued, contributing members of society.

Still, I worried that in depicting my character honestly, I would also have to present her less sympathetic qualities and risk outsiders labeling her, and by implication all persons with Asperger’s, as weird or antisocial. But an honest depiction allows for the character to grow, and Kiara learns in the course of the novel that in order to have a friend, she must be a friend. (This is a lesson I had to learn as well.) In the end, Kiara turns out to be the only real friend Chad has, the only one who stands by him when his life completely falls apart.

Sometimes, the person who you think is the least capable turns out to be the best person for the situation. That’s how I felt about writing fiction when I received my Asperger’s diagnosis, because I have so much trouble understanding nonverbal cues and other people’s intentions and motivations—things that are so essential to a successful novel. But I can observe and study things other people take for granted, and that, like seeing the world from a different perspective as a person on the autism spectrum, has helped my writing immensely.

And, please tell us about the comics which your mirror so well with your characters. Did you read comics as a child? Did you create the comic characters after the characters in your book or vice versa?

It was a little of both, because the X-Men was a relatively new series, with far fewer characters, when I was a teenager. I identified with them, however. Society excluded and persecuted them because they were different, just as I experienced exclusion and bullying because I was not like the other girls my age. My favorite character was Professor X, their mentor, because I wanted someone older, like him, to take me in, teach me to do good rather than always getting into trouble, and give me a community where I fit in and was valued for who I was.

I didn’t stay a fan of the X-Men for long because I didn’t identify with any of the characters except Professor X. But I knew that Kiara would be into X-Men the way I was, and in the four decades between when I grew up and when Rogue takes place, many more characters have appeared. Of them, Rogue is the one closest to my protagonist because she is a girl and because she can’t touch or be touched, and her emotional development is stunted, as is Kiara’s. I’d envisioned Chad as the friend for Kiara, with the friendship as conflicted and complex as that between Rogue and Gambit, and it worked out well in that they came from the same place and Gambit’s family, like Chad’s, is involved in a criminal enterprise.