In the second chapter of A Wizard Alone, I AM SCREAMING. Intrigued? Then it’s time for Mark to read Young Wizards.
Trigger Warning: For talk of ableism related to autism and neuroatypical people, grief, coulrophobia/fear of clowns, and suicide.
I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT TO SAY, I JUST WANT THIS REVIEW TO SAY I AM EXCITED IN BOLDED ALL CAPS AND MOVE ON BECAUSE THAT MEANS I GET MORE OF A WIZARD ALONE SOONER RATHER LATER. But that’s not fair, and I really want to do this justice. LET’S TALK, COUSINS.
I feel so unprepared going back to the beginning of this chapter. I started off reading all of this with a completely different mindset. I was yelling about clowns! And how truly horrible they are! I felt sad for Nita, trapped in her grief over her mother’s death. Duane imbues the text with a tangible sense of loss, and as beautiful as the prose was, it also hit real close to home. There’s one particular thing I wanted to touch on because it’s so rarely talked about: the denial. Your brain plays tricks on you when you lose someone. This past summer, I lost one of my very good friends to suicide. I’ve been largely unable to deal with it, even though I went to his wake.
No matter that there’s all the evidence in the world that he is gone, I can’t believe it. I keep going to his Facebook page to leave him comments about whatever new thing I’ve discovered or learned, and there’s a moment there where I genuinely forget that he’s gone. It’s cruel, and I wish my brain would just move on, but I can’t. So this line struck me when I read it:
It didn’t take a wizard to figure out that he’d been afraid to fall asleep, because of who he would, again and again, not find beside him when he woke up.
Yeah. Real close to home.
Look, it’s not that I feel it’s fair to rush through much of this chapter and what Duane reveals just so I can get to Darryl, but I TOTALLY WANT TO DO THIS. I can’t help it, THIS IS SO UNEXPECTED AND SURPRISING AND I WANT TO TALK ABOUT IT FOREVER. But the set-up is important, too! We get to see more of Kit’s life in school, including his friend Raoul. It was nice to know he had friends other than Nita because it helped give me a portrait of what his whole life looked like. That’s something that’s been missing in the past books because we’ve been so wrapped up in the lives of the Callahans. Which made sense! It’s just that we’re now getting the chance for Kit to get the same treatment, and I really, really love it.
Plus, Duane writes Kit in a way that makes it clear that his thought process is not the same as Nita’s, so the variance in narration works in her favor, too. He’s got a very analytical mind, and watching him tackle these problems is a lot of fun. Here, though, he works under a limited amount of time to secretly find Darryl, and I’m impressed with how he was able to pull that off. And yes, I love invisibility spells in fantasy books ANYWAY, so I was destined to love this before anything even happened.
And then we meet Darryl, and I am already destroyed by this book in the second chapter. A black wizard with autism. A BLACK WIZARD WITH AUTISM. I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHAT ELSE I NEED TO SAY BEYOND THAT. Except there’s so much to say about it! I am guessing that there might have been some editing done in the New Millennium edition of this book to update terms, but regardless, there is such an understanding and sympathy written into the text.
Sympathy isn’t everything, of course, and I hope the text moves beyond that because people with autism don’t want others to feel sorry for them; they just wanted to be treated with respect and love. However, in this context, I understood Kit’s reaction. How could the Powers That Be give Darryl an Ordeal? How could they expect not to further traumatize him? What if his Ordeal made things worse for him?
And Duane addresses this by having Tom and Kit discuss Darryl WITH RESPECT. He is different, absolutely, and that difference matters in how Kit is to deal with Darryl. But they don’t do that thing that people do when faced with someone who thinks or believes or acts or loves differently than they do: they don’t make him feel like a mystical Other. He’s still a kid who has been given the chance to become a wizard, and they are both invested in helping Darryl achieve that goal without hurting him. They consciously think about that, too! How might their action, no matter how good-intentioned they are, cause irreparable harm in Darryl?
“Or it may not have been germane – wizardry’s hardly limited to the nuerotypical.”
I’VE NEVER EVEN SEEN THIS WORD IN A WORK OF FICTION, AND WITH THIS ONE LINE, DUANE OPENED UP HER ENTIRE UNIVERSE SO THAT NEUROATYPICAL PEOPLE COULD IMAGINE THEMSELVES AS WIZARDS. IT IS THAT SIMPLE, CAN YOU HEAR ME SCREAMING FROM MY HOUSE.
Duane manages to pack in a lot of information here – some from Tom, some from Kit’s research on autistic people, some from Kit’s conversation with his mother – to help the reader understand why Kit’s journey into Darryl’s mind will be complicated. There’s talk of existing trauma; of the way that Darryl may have built “structures” to deal with being so in tune to the world; of the fact that autism manifests in countless ways in countless people; of the fact that this complication is not a bad thing at all. In the end, the message I got here was: treat Darryl with respect, and treat him as an individual. Don’t assume you know who he is, how he deals with trauma, how he deals with overstimulation, etc. Be kind. Open-minded.
My gods, that is so incredible.
One last note: I’m super into YA novels with strong relationships between the protagonists and their parents. (So much so that I wrote one.) Like with Kit’s father in the last chapter, Duane shows us how Kit relates to his mother, particular when it comes to his wizardry. She’s a lot more suspicious than her husband, but that’s a good thing. Wizardry can be a scary thing to talk about, and while Kit understands this, he has to walk her through it more delicately than with her father. In the process, though, he is honest with her, and I love that wizardry naturally leads to that. Honesty can only bring them closer.
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