Title: Ellen Outside the Lines
Author: A.J. Sass
Stars: ★★★★ (4 stars)
Two things to know about my personal biases before going in:
1) My mother worked most of her life for BOCES, and as I worked summer school for them when I was older, I worked with a variety of kids on the autism spectrum.
2) I’m non-binary.
That meant I was walking into a book on edge. Luckily, A.J. Sass is non-binary and autistic, so I put aside my nerves and dove in.
Every character, every scene hit me. It was so familiar and personal in ways I hadn’t realized I never got as a kid. There were so many facets that I ended up delaying moving on to reread it (something I never do). There are a few moments that physically hurt.
Literal thinking that uses clear social rules to help those who struggle to read non-verbal behavioral cues can feel like an unsurmountable wall. They can show themselves in syllogisms (if a and b are true, c must also be true). This isn’t show verbatim in the pages, but the thinking comes through. One obvious example is a question about skirts.
If skirts are a piece of gender-exclusive clothing (i.e. skirts are for girls), and if Isa wears a skirt, then – Isa should = girl according to the deductive reasoning in the argument. However, as Isa points out, that logic is flawed. There is nothing that makes a skirt gender-exclusive. It’s a rather neat one because of Scottish kilts, which is a readily accessible reference for many, and it neatly does away with the base of the logic rather than simply arguing against the conclusion.
Overall, Ellen Outside The Lines is a warm and inclusive coming of age story. Yes, the kids do run a bit wild in Barcelona, and I don’t know a single teacher who would let 13-year-olds be as unsupervised in a foreign country, but the warmth and acceptance as these kids figure out themselves and the world around them won be over completely.