In this Spotlight post, I will shine a light on the graphic book Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women.
Written by: Dr. Sarah Bargiela
Art by: Sophie Standing
What It’s About: Autism in women and girls is still not widely understood, and is often misrepresented or even overlooked. This graphic novel offers an engaging and accessible insight into the lives and minds of women with autism, using real-life case studies. The charming illustrations lead readers on a visual journey of how women on the spectrum experience everyday life, from metaphors and masking behaviours to communication online, dealing with social pressures and managing relationships.
Fun, sensitive and informative, this is a fantastic resource for anyone who wishes to understand how gender affects autism, and how to create safer, more accommodating environments for women on the spectrum.
While autism is a topic that is coming up more in more in our daily lives through news reports and through parents sharing their stories of raising autistic children, we tend to think of it very singularly and understand very little about it.
This graphic book discusses and displays how autism is different in women and girls. As an information seeker and gatherer and reader, this is not something I had ever known or considered. That right there is important because this graphic book highlights a gap in the understanding of autism as a whole.
The book does a great job of introducing us to the topic and showing us through Sophie Standing’s art how different the experience of autism is for women. I am a visual learner so displaying the information in this way makes it simpler and easier to understand. What adds to our understanding of the subject are the voices of actual women with autism sharing their stories about school, relationships, and their social identities and interests.
What I would love to see more of in the future are the collected stories of autistic women in graphic form. I think their experiences are important and that the graphic book Camouflage: The Hidden Lives of Autistic Women is a starting point in that conversation and understanding of autism in women and girls.
What It’s About: By day, seventeen-year-old Jo Kuan works as a lady’s maid for the cruel daughter of one of the wealthiest men in Atlanta. But by night, Jo moonlights as the pseudonymous author of a newspaper advice column for the genteel Southern lady, “Dear Miss Sweetie.” When her column becomes wildly popular, she uses the power of the pen to address some of society’s ills, but she’s not prepared for the backlash that follows when her column challenges fixed ideas about race and gender.
While her opponents clamor to uncover the secret identity of Miss Sweetie, a mysterious letter sets Jo off on a search for her own past and the parents who abandoned her as a baby. But when her efforts put her in the crosshairs of Atlanta’s most notorious criminal, Jo must decide whether she, a girl used to living in the shadows, is ready to step into the light.
The Downstairs Girl is a compelling story that gives us a glimpse into what it meant to be Chinese in 1890s Atlanta through the words of its witty and fierce main character, Jo Kuan. Not just that but what it meant to be a person of colour during that time, which Jo also shows us through her friends and their experiences. Jo’s journey from being fired from the hat shop, an event that leaves her feeling powerless, to becoming Miss Sweetie and writing about her views on society is full of strength.
I have used the word fierce and I do not use it lightly here to describe Jo. She fights so hard for herself, chases the thread of her origins and faces heartbreak head-on. That is one of Stacey Lee’s strengths with this book – her characters drive this story. Whether they anger you, make you laugh, or break your heart, they beg you to keep reading for another page to see where they will end up Another strength of this book is in its descriptions. Each scene and space is so skillfully described for the reader that it comes to life. Old Gin and Jo’s home, for example, a unique and secret place, becomes cozy, lived in and full of their cherished possessions. I think that this book is overwhelmingly about being powerful through small acts of defiance and that kindness can be found in unexpected places.
I truly loved this book. It is one of my top picks for 2019.