It’s Autism Awareness Month and if you’re looking for a great MG book with neurodiverse characters, try Frankie and Amelia by Cammie McGovern. The story is told from the point of view of Frankie, a large Maine Coon cat. After being separated from his first family, Frankie learns to find food and shelter. But he doesn’t like fending for himself so, when he gets a chance to live with humans again, he takes it, even though this family has a dog. Frankie has never met a dog that he liked, but Chester is different. He’s patient, wise, and a specially trained service dog for Gus, a boy with autism.
Unfortunately, Frankie’s time with Chester is short because the dad is allergic to cats. Frankie then goes to live with one of Gus’s classmates, Amelia. Frankie bonds with Amelia immediately because they share a lot in common. Just like him, Amelia doesn’t like showers, loud noises, or being hugged. She also has trouble making friends like Frankie. But what is acceptable for cats, isn’t okay for fifth-grade girls. At a time where social connections start to be of major importance to children, Amelia’s inability to understand social cues keeps her from forming close friendships with her classmates. She hates going to school.
This story highlights just how broad the range of neurodiversity can be, and how symptoms can vary widely. In Amelia’s case, her neurodiversity wasn’t as obvious as Gus’s, so she hadn’t been diagnosed.
I’m a fan of first-person animal stories anyway, but I especially liked how Amelia’s behaviors aren’t odd from a cat’s perspective. Made me think that maybe we all need to look at others with new perspectives. After you read Frankie and Amelia, try McGovern’s Chester and Gus.