An autistic teen navigating the world in Ginny Moon

Ginny Moon is 14, has autism and is named after her birth mother's favourite drink.

She is also intelligent, brave and compassionate - not that debut author Benjamin Ludwig uses any of these words to describe her because the novel is told entirely in the girl's voice.

Through stilted thoughts and spare sentences, Ludwig plunges us into Ginny's world, deep into her brain where figures of speech do not make sense and rules are absolute.

She starts her day with exactly nine grapes for breakfast and must always know exactly what time it is.

"Sometimes I wonder if I love dates and numbers because when I'm deep in my brain they help me remember where I really am. They are like handles I can use to pull myself back up," she muses.

She does this regularly, coming "back up out of (her) brain" because no one understands what it is like there.



    By Benjamin Ludwig

    Harlequin Books/ Paperback/ 360 pages/ $44.11/ Books Kinokuniya

    4.5/5 stars

Not her adoptive Forever Parents, her counsellor Patrice or her birth mother Gloria, who is set on finding her daughter against all odds, including a restraining order.

Ludwig, himself an adoptive parent of a teenager with autism, helps us understand Ginny - and it feels like a privilege to view her slant on the world.

Ludwig couples her voice with a well-paced narrative that holds multiple surprises, so even though she circumambulates the same rituals every day, the action progresses swiftly.

The author also writes with one eye closely trained on human dynamics.

As Gloria closes in and Ginny's foster parents struggle to cope with an infant and a difficult teenager in the house, the tension is ratcheted up through Ginny's frank observations.

She knows, for instance, that "sometimes (her Forever Dad) lies down on the couch after he finishes talking to (her) and closes his eyes. And breathes deep and slow".

She also knows, from the rise of her Forever Mom's lip and her constantly clenched teeth, that she is a difficult girl to love.

But she is a fresh and original character lost in a world that often drowns out her voice, even as she struggles to find a place to belong.

For some, being a heroine means saving the world.

For others like Ginny, it just means figuring out how to live in it.

If you liked this, read: The Leavers (Algonquin, 2017, $43.43, Books Kinokuniya), Lisa Ko's debut novel about a Chinese immigrant who disappears without a trace, leaving behind her 11-year-old son.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 25, 2017, with the headline 'Privilege of watching an autistic teen navigate her world'. Print Edition | Subscribe