This incredibly moving and thought-provoking novel is a collaboration by Teacher/Author Rebecca Westcott and teenager Libby Scott, who is autistic. The power of Libby’s voice, expressed through the diary entries of protagonist Tally, calls out to all readers to empathise with those who have so much to teach us about neurological difference.
Twelve year-old Tally has suffered from bullying previously in the school year and now faces the prospect of a week-long Year 7 residential trip, which she has only considered attending because Mrs Jarman, her trusted, understanding Drama teacher will be there. In the preceding week’s assembly Mrs Jarman says:
“You’ll be learning to face your fears. You’ll discover that strength and courage come in many forms, and most of all, you’ll learn that your are capable of doing far more than you ever thought you could.”
Unfortunately for Tally she has to start learning these lessons immediately as at the last minute Mrs Jarman cannot attend the camp, and instead of sharing accommodation with her kind best friend Aleksandra, she is allocated a cabin with three of the girls who have bullied her previously and two girls from another school. Of these two strangers, she realises that Skye is the kind of “popular” girl that everyone is afraid to cross despite her appalling behaviour, and the other Jade is an outsider with many similarities to herself.
As the week’s activities and dramas unfold, your eyes are opened to the incredible challenges faced by people with autism as Tally tries to mask some of her behaviours, avoid stimming and read the vocal and facial signals of strangers which are often incomprehensible to her. The bullying plot is crafted beautifully to examine the behaviour of all the teenagers and to show the gradual acceptance and celebration of differences. It is not only Tally who discovers strength and courage during the week.
This is an absolutely essential book for everyone working in schools to help gain empathy for those with autism and also general tween and teenage behaviour. I would highly recommend it as a story for Year 6 pupils in preparation for their transition to secondary school as it would spark many discussion points about what to expect and how to deal with new situations for the entire cohort. I loved the portrayal of Tally’s family, demonstrating the gentle, choice-giving manner with which those with autism need to be treated, whilst also recognising the stresses and frustrations felt by the entire family. The scene where Tally is expected to open her twelfth birthday presents, with its palpable feeling of tension taught me a valuable lesson in empathy which I am determined to remember.
An absolutely essential book to add to any school library. I am most grateful to my fellow members of the Primary School Book Club for voting for Do You Know Me? as May’s book choice!