Kids Like Us

Book review by
Darienne Stewart, Common Sense Media
Kids Like Us Book Poster Image
Stirring, romantic story of autistic boy's first love soars.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Empathetic portrayal of the perspective of a teen on the autism spectrum, along with strategies and techniques he and his family use to help him engage and interact with the world. Discusses conditions like echolalia and the concept of neurodiversity. Marcel Proust's In Search of Lost Time figures prominently in the story: Martin uses the themes and key scenes of the book to interpret the world. Plentiful references to artists including César Franck, Charles Gleyre, Pieter de Hooch, Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot, Botticelli, and J.M.W. Turner. The story is set near the Château de Chenonceau, with references to Henry II, Diane de Poitiers, and Catherine de' Medici.

Positive Messages

Being different makes people interesting. Understanding stress triggers and using coping techniques can ease difficult situations and possibly expand boundaries. Autism doesn't have to be described as a disorder, but can be a different way of experiencing the world. Friendships that have messy, complicated starts can still become authentic and rewarding. People can be both very good and deeply flawed. Forgiveness and generosity are powerful forces in relationships.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Martin is smart, thoughtful, and keenly attentive to his every interaction. He wants to be better able to build meaningful, mutually rewarding relationships with others. Martin's family is deeply invested in his well-being. His father threw himself into understanding his son and helping him thrive. His mother and sister are very focused on Martin's needs and seize every opportunity they can to help him learn and grow, though the stress and effort of meeting his needs is clear. Teens apologize for taking advantage of Martin, who accepts their apology and extends kindnesses that lead to strong friendships.

Violence

Motorcycle crash that injures teen is briefly described but not portrayed.

Sex

Teens kiss; references to affairs; boy expresses desire for romantic physical contact; mention of woman's "distracting breasts."

Language

Some swearing includes "a--holes," "bitch," "damn," "f--k," and "goddamn."

Consumerism

References to some fashion brands (Doc Martens, Hilfiger, Converse), social media sites, snack foods (Nutella, Orangina, Coke), iPod, and Sharpie.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Teens drink at parties; one is injured in an accident with a drunk driver, and another vomits. French teens smoke, including at school. Adult and teen characters drink wine at social gatherings, and one teen feels hung over after drinking too much wine.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kids Like Us is narrated by a teen on the autism spectrum who relates to the world through the filter of his favorite book by the French author Marcel Proust. While themes and symbolism from that book inform much of the narrator's internal dialogue, they're fully explained within the context of the novel -- readers don't need to know Proust to appreciate the story about a boy figuring out how to fall in love when even the simplest everyday interactions are stressful and demanding. Teens drink at parties, and the French students smoke. One teen is badly hurt in a crash caused by a drunk driver. Two teens have parents in jail -- one for embezzlement, the other for dealing drugs. There are brief references to prostitutes and drug abuse.

User Reviews

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What's the story?

In KIDS LIKE US, Martin, 16, is spending a summer in France with his older sister and mother, who's directing a movie in a small town. At home he goes to a school for children on the autism spectrum, but this summer he's trying a "general-ed" school. Martin's hopes for a life-changing experience are heightened when he sees a girl he's certain is the very one from his favorite book, a 20th-century French epic he uses to interpret the world. Martin feels he's falling in love, but he has difficulty separating the real world from fantasy, and he's unsure whether his new friends are genuine or just using him to get close to his mom's glamorous work.

Is it any good?

Hilary Reyl's first teen novel brims with hope and heartache, exploring complex ideas about identity, relationships, and uncertainty through a boy on the autism spectrum who has a rich inner life. Kids Like Us is an insightful look at how our interior lives influence the way we engage with the world at large, for better and for worse. Martin has a distinctive voice, yet any reader can relate to his concerns: reconciling fantasy with reality, trying to fit in, worrying about how he's perceived, figuring out how to connect with others. Especially poignant are the glimpses of how hard he and his family work to help Martin unlock himself, from his mother's yoga breaths to his beloved father's devotion and their fierce support of his unique view of the world. Reyl skillfully weaves in themes and symbolism from Proust, infusing the book with complex layers of meaning. Kids who love literature will revel in Martin's adoration for Proust -- and might discover him themselves.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how Martin applies themes and ideas from his favorite book to his everyday experiences in Kids Like Us. Is there a book or movie that resonates strongly with you and connects to your life?

  • Does this book change your understanding of autism, or of people who in other ways are not neurotypical?

  • How would you answer Layla's recurring question: "Do you think our phones are instruments of communication or torture?"

Book details

Themes & Topics

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For kids who love tales of romance and kids on the autism spectrum

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