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A Lot or a Little?
What you will—and won't—find in this book.
This is book about autism that's written by an author with autism, so much thought and experience has gone into the depiction of an autistic child's perceptions. At the same time, the autistic main character is learning about the history of witch trials in her Scottish town. Historical facts and nuances are plentiful (Bonnie Prince Charles, the Jacobites, Robert Burns are mentioned).
Be unique. It's important to try your best, even if your answer is no. Be true to yourself. Expand your mind. Find the right people to trust. There is value in authenticity. Stand up for what you believe in, even if people shut you down. Take care of yourself. Be safe where you spend your time. Tell adults when things get intense. You don't have to be inside the box -- think outside the box. Don't give up.
Positive Role Models
There are people in main character Addie's life who understand her and show her love and support. Her older teen sister Keedie also has autism, and has shouldered the burdens Addie currently carries. Addie turns to her for the kind of connection and advice that feels right. Addie's other older teen sister Nina is neurotypical, which is confusing to Addie, but Nina protects her and advocates for her. The school librarian and the bookseller are also allies who support Addie's special interests and talents.
Characters are neurodiverse and different levels of ability. Two sisters have autism and a third sister is neurotypical. The book is set in a small Scottish town where characters skew White.
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Violence & Scariness
Some adults in this book are either cruel or violent to children. Children fight back -- in one instance, a child sinks her teeth into the shoulder of a woman who is attacking a sibling. The historical plight of women who were accused of witchcraft is catalogued -- torture includes thumb screws, drowning, hanging, beating, burning.
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"Bloody," "hell," "retard."
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Products & Purchases
Mentions of "Eyewitness" books, Harry Potter.
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking
Parents retire to the living room with a glass of wine after a long day.
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Parents Need to Know
Parents need to know that Elle McNicoll's A Kind of Spark is a novel about an 11-year-old girl with autism who's living in Scotland and is misunderstood by her peers as well as her teacher. She experiences severe bullying, which includes peers who taunt her, telling her she's a freak and a "retard." There's discussion about the witch trials in Scotland in the 16th century, when women were dragged from their homes and tortured, hung, and burned for diverging from the norm. An adult assaults a child, a child bites an adult; kids fight and punch each other. Parents drink wine after a long day.
Is It Any Good?
Quick-paced and compelling, this story travels deeply into the point-of-view of a person with autism. This is because the debut author of A Kind of Spark, Elle McNicoll, is autistic and writes from the heart. Though the story wastes no time getting its point across, it's well-written enough to leave readers wishing there were a few more chapters.
The subplot exploring historical witch hunts conveys how high the stakes can be for people who don't fit the norm. Though such violence no longer takes place in the town square, Addie feels the threat of being institutionalized casting a shadow over her every move. Her quest to speak the truth about witch burnings -- a desire to stand up for human rights -- spotlights this fear. The result is a story that can help broaden the understanding of people like Addie (or Greta Thunburg), whose differences can serve as their strengths.
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Research shows a connection between kids' healthy self-esteem and positive portrayals in media. That's why we've added a new "Diverse Representations" section to our reviews that will be rolling out on an ongoing basis. You can help us help kids by suggesting a diversity update.
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Our Editors Recommend
Books with Characters on the Autism Spectrum
Books with Strong Female Characters
Common Sense Media's unbiased ratings are created by expert reviewers and aren't influenced by the product's creators or by any of our funders, affiliates, or partners.See how we rate