Middle Grade Review: A Kind of Spark (Elle McNicoll)



About This Book:

Perfect for readers of Song for a Whale and Counting by 7s, a neurodivergent girl campaigns for a memorial when she learns that her small Scottish town used to burn witches simply because they were different.

“A must-read for students and adults alike.” -School Library Journal, Starred Review

Ever since Ms. Murphy told us about the witch trials that happened centuries ago right here in Juniper, I can’t stop thinking about them. Those people weren’t magic. They were like me. Different like me.

I’m autistic. I see things that others do not. I hear sounds that they can ignore. And sometimes I feel things all at once. I think about the witches, with no one to speak for them. Not everyone in our small town understands. But if I keep trying, maybe someone will. I won’t let the witches be forgotten. Because there is more to their story. Just like there is more to mine.

Award-winning and neurodivergent author Elle McNicoll delivers an insightful and stirring debut about the European witch trials and a girl who refuses to relent in the fight for what she knows is right.



*Review Contributed by Karen Yingling, Staff Reviewer*

Exploring Differences Then and Now
Addie lives in the small Scottish town of Juniper, not far from Edinburgh with her parents and older twin sisters. Nina has a vlog for makeup tips, and Keedie is at university. Keedie is especially helpful to Addie, since both are on the autism spectrum. They both struggle with loud noises, too much stimulation, and people who don’t understand their different needs. Keedie has become good at “masking”, and people at university don’t know about her differences, but Addie is suffering at school. Her teacher, Ms. Murphy, is very mean; she even rips up Addie’s paper because her handwriting is poor, and frequently yells at her. Addie’s former best friend Jenna will no longer talk to her, deciding instead to hang out with Emily, who routinely makes fun of Addie. When the history of Juniper and its treatment of witches is covered in class, Addie feels a kinship with the women who were tortured and killed just for being different. Along with Audrey, a new girl from England who takes her side, Addie sets out to approach the town government for a memorial to the women who were killed. There are missteps along the way, but Addie learns a lot about herself, her family, and the way that society treats those who are different.
Good Points
While the phrase “own voices” has fallen out of favor, it is important to note that the author self identifies as neurodivergent. Books like Rorby’s How to Speak Dolphin and Baskin’s Anything But Typical, offer good representations of characters on the autism spectrum, but there are other books by neurotypical authors that miss the mark. Addie’s frustrations and challenges are clearly defined, and she has a decent support network and a few soping strategies. Her struggles at school and with friends are well drawn and realistic. The tie in with the witches in Juniper’s history showcases how treatement of individuals who are different has changed over the years, and it’s an interesting connection for Addie to make.

The one thing I found surprising was Ms. Murphy’s treatment of her student, which would not go over well in the US. My school has had an autism unit for over 15 years, so perhaps we are more used to seeing and dealing with neurodivergent children. Jenna’s behavior seems more in line with reality, since many friendships are strained while growing up, and having a friend who regularly melts down in class is challenging even for the most understanding friend.

Just as it is a bit less common for girls to be on the autism spectrum, it is harder to find them reflected in books. Kapit’s Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! and Lupica’s Team Players do offer glimpses into such characters, but Addie is a welcome addition to the list. It’s a good idea to investigate newer titles when dealing with many topics, since diagnoses, treatment, and public perception can change over time.

A Kind of Spark is a fast paced, interesting read set in an intriguing part of the world for US readers, and dealing with history that might be unknown. Addie’s struggles are universal, and will appeal to readers who want to investigate what the tween years are like for others who might not have lives exactly like theirs.

*Find More Info & Buy This Book HERE!*