This is one of those books that takes you by surprise, in the best possible way. It is the story of Leon and his mother Caroline as they navigate the many pitfalls that could occur as a result of Leon’s firm ideas about what is acceptable, due to his diagnosis of Asperger’s. We begin the story as Leon is starting at his 7 x new school (he is very precise about the number of schools) in Blackpool. Things do not get off to a good start when he makes a comment about the Afro hairstyle of a girl called Tanya. After this very rocky episode, he also makes the acquaintance of a boy called Lawrence, who announces that he also has Asperger’s. Both boys find themselves the target of the school bully, Glen and have to avoid him and his gang of followers. When you add in the fact that Tanya has dyslexia and Caroline has secretly had a boyfriend for 6 months, then the scene is set for an explosion of misunderstandings .
This sounds like a very serious book and it does have some very strong themes, yet it is also extremely funny as we get to know the three main characters and see how they negotiate with each other, gradually easing their way to a form of friendship. Leon is the most amazing character and to begin with he feels very difficult to feel sympathy for. He is so rigid in his thoughts and habits, but does not understand that this is somehow different from the majority of people. Even his food has to be served in the same way, with a very set menu for the week. However, I am completely in awe of Leon’s collection of chocolate, he not only has an encyclopedic knowledge of different types of chocolate bar/sweet, but he has a room lined with drawers containing samples and the room itself is thermostatically controlled and kept at 18.3 degrees Celsius; basically this is like the RHS seedbank, but for chocolate!
I found this book absolutely inspiring and it felt that I was getting a window into the issues that neurodiverse people have to contend with. There have been quite a few ‘celebrities’ who have recently announced that they have been diagnosed as being autistic and hopefully this will help others to understand the issues. I love the banner at the top of the front cover which says “Just do it. Differently”, to me it just emphasizes the fact that everyone has their own way of doing things, whether it is collecting books about Christmas and also Books/Libraries, as I do, or whether it is having rigid timetables for things. This is an outstanding 5-star read.
Thank you to the publishers, Welbeck for this set of discussion notes that can be used with classes and reading groups.
“Leon John Crothers is 4779 days old (thirteen years and one month, if you’re
mathematically challenged), he has been ‘moved on’ from six different
schools and most people think he has an attitude problem. Leon doesn’t
care for the label, in the same way that he doesn’t care for Tim Burton,
supermarket trolleys, train fanatics or Bounty bars.
This time, however, things may turn out differently as help comes from where
he least expects it – Dr Snot, a physician at pains to help Leon navigate
‘normal’ and classmates, Tanya and Lawrence who both face their own
challenges. When school bully Glen Jenkins humiliates Leon in the school
canteen and almost destroys Lawrence, Leon very reluctantly agrees to the
formation of a club, The Asparagus Bunch.
How Leon manages to navigate school woes and family drama –
and astonishingly ends up with not one but two friends – is nothing short of a
miracle, or maybe just simply down to being different.”
The Asparagus Bunch by Jessica Scott-Whyte is published in paperback on 21 July 2022 for 11+ readers.