Jump to ratings and reviews
Rate this book

Somebody Somewhere: Breaking Free from the World of Autism

Rate this book
In the acclaimed sequel to Nobody Nowhere--in which Donna Williams gives readers a guided tour of life with autism--Williams explores the four years since her diagnosis and her attempts to leave her "world under glass" and live normally. NPR sponsorship.

256 pages, Paperback

First published February 1, 1994

Loading interface...
Loading interface...

About the author

Donna Williams

126 books53 followers
Donna Williams is the author of Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic, in which she tells of her lifelong battle with autism -- a developmental disorder originating in infancy and characterized by self-absorption, repetitive and rigidly structured behavior, language dysfunction, and an inability to interact socially. Williams depicts in her book a world of disembodied color, pattern, and sound. At times she would madly rub her eyes and withdraw into "bright spots of fluffy color," attempting to escape what she called the "intrusive gabble" of other people. Torn between a dread of physical contact and a desire for emotional connection, Williams would often beat herself then assume a fetal position. "Hurting herself," as New York Times Book Review contributor Daniel Goleman relates, "or doing shocking things ... were ways to reassure herself that she did indeed exist."

Goleman explains that books such as Williams's provide a valuable insight into an unfamiliar world, "revealing to outsiders that what may seem bizarre and unpredictable follows its own internal logic, however strange." Writing for the Los Angeles Times Book Review, Chris Goodrich found that Williams "proves herself to be rigorously analytical and remarkably free of self-pity, despite a life fraught with fear, pain, and misunderstanding." Nobody Nowhere was written by Williams in her efforts to better understand her world. Only upon the advice of two therapists familiar with autism did Williams decide to publish her writings. Goleman noted that the work provides "a fascinating testimony to an intelligence undimmed by mental turmoil," while Goodrich proclaimed that "Nobody Nowhere is as brave a book as you'll ever read."

Williams told CA: "Autism is not a 'mental disorder' anymore than it is a communication, social, perceptual, or neurological disorder. It is a pervasive development disorder (PDD) affecting many areas of development. It is not a mental illness, nor is it synonymous with mental retardation."

Source: Contemporary Authors Online, Gale, 2003.
Source Database: Contemporary Authors
PEN (Permanent Entry Number): 0000115308

Ratings & Reviews

What do you think?
Rate this book

Friends & Following

Create a free account to discover what your friends think of this book!

Community Reviews

5 stars
207 (34%)
4 stars
208 (34%)
3 stars
148 (24%)
2 stars
26 (4%)
1 star
8 (1%)
Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews
Profile Image for Ines.
321 reviews198 followers
July 24, 2017
stupendo!!! di fronte ad un vissuto simile rimango senza parole e capacità di commento....Dio unicamente sa il perchè di questi vissuti e destini...
Grandissima Donna Williams!!!
Profile Image for Tracy.
141 reviews
July 30, 2011
This book continues the story of the author's life after her diagnosis of autism. I found it interesting to read about how she interacts with others with autism, often picking them out in public settings and understanding their perspectives on the way they interact with the world.
Profile Image for Daniel L..
249 reviews11 followers
September 9, 2014
For Somebody Somewhere, "Autism Is Not Me"

As we learned from Donna Williams’s first memoir, Nobody Nowhere, there is no typical person with autism; yet, like many people on the spectrum, Donna Williams was distant from the world. That was her world. Donna, a gifted writer, sought to reconcile her world with the world around her. In her first book, Donna felt compelled to “Run and hide, to the corners of your mind, alone/Like a nobody, nowhere.” In looking back, Donna said:

On the edge I ask myself, what will I lose,
To have lived in the depths of “well below zero,”
I grasped the tools to climb out,
And scream loudly to the world.
That with all I was, it wasn’t fair enough
That I stayed there: a nobody nowhere.

Now, Donna found herself in a position to “pick up the pieces… to build a somewhere out of a nowhere and a somebody out of a nobody.” She may be building castles in the air, but she has come to a point in her life to make them real,” of building bridges between the dream to fly and the being able to do so. It is the story of somebody somewhere.”

For Donna, starting her second book was the hardest part; she had just revealed her personal details in Nobody Nowhere, of which the edited but not yet published manuscript lay in envelope in her den. Donna spoke of “her world”; was she yet ready to enter “the world”? Much has been said about labels. For Donna, the label of “autism” was the way in which she could understand herself; with that knowledge, she had to embark on the perilous journey of understanding others and the world around her. Yet, while Donna accepted this label and what it meant, she refused to let it define her.

For the first 40 or so pages, Donna revisited various episodes of her childhood and adolescence in a manner resembling somebody flipping through the many channels on a TV. Upon discussing her relationship with her therapist, Dr. Marek, she was able to relate how he helped her “understand more and more bits puzzle,” though many things came to her mind, especially as she related them in her first book. Then began the tumultuous relationship with her father and his girlfriend. For much of her early life, Donna tried to define what her “successes” were as a “high-functioning” person with autism, “but on automatic pilot in a state of self-denial and a step away from consciousness and awareness, “I” was sometimes so normal it was chillingly abnormal.” And this denial was for a long time the best compromise for Donna, but one that carried too high a price, as it was no longer a worthy exchange for “to live.” It was time for her to return to her native Australia; fortunately, she had a job and an apartment lined up, as well as her therapist, Dr. Marek. It is through her correspondence she was able to relate her progress in finding her way to being somebody somewhere.

For Donna, an important step was understanding emotions, both her own and those of others around her. Of these, the most perplexing and most difficult to comprehend was anger. Again, Donna had to understand the meaning of anger in others, as well as her own anger. For Donna, this was a learning process, and a challenging one, at that. From her landlord, Donna had to learn other emotions, including a definition of closeness very different from her little world inside. That meant that Donna also had to learn to understand what other people were feeling and thinking. At least there was Dr. Marek to help her understand these new concepts. And another part of Donna’s journey came through by confronting all she had confided in Nobody Nowhere through public interviews and press conferences. Her book tour took her around the world; in the UK and elsewhere, Donna had the opportunity to meet other people with autism, culminating with a relationship with a man named Ian. Both had come so far. “Autism is not me.”
February 5, 2021
As part of my own period of really focusing on understanding autism from the perspective of those with autism and those without (I am autistic myself, for full discretion), reading this was quite an experience to say the least. A fractured collection of thoughts, memories and perspectives, Donna's writing can be impactful, insightful and witty. Her command of words considering how this is written is really impressive. My issues are more to do with the actual content itself. Now, for full discretion I wasn't sure if it was right for someone like me to review this, considering how close to home the subject is to me. However, for those who wish for a balanced review I think it's fair to say that this book has really beautiful moments. As I said before, the actual language is brilliant, but my main issue is that there are issues when it comes to evaluating this as a collective peace. As what I've found with many other autistic authors, the problem you have as a reader is that you have to add credence and validity to the claims the author has to what is going through their head. You have no actual way of proving whether it really is as they say it is. As a result, at times reading some of these passages is like reading someone's acid trip. Even as someone with autism, part of me is skeptical to what is actually been described here. Yes, I cannot credit nor discredit someone else's experience, but at the same time none of this is actually helpful for those who are not autistic to understand what it is like to be autistic. While I certainly share some commonalities there is much I cannot say I share nor agree with Donna on here. As a reader, it is critical to remember that this entire perspective and experience, while perhaps applicable to Donna does not apply to autistic people or even highly functional autistic people as a whole. Secondly, while I understand Donna's desire to include song/poetry lyrics from time to time it does unfortunately break the flow of what's actually happening, bordering on self indulgence and adding to the 'autistic mysticism' (when autistic writers create something poetic concerning their disability which is meant to look "insightful" or "haunting" in a way perhaps a reader hadnt considered before) which can be quite prevalent in books like this.
Of course, I do not wish for this review to appear mostly negative. I hope this has come across as balanced. There are truly wonderful and insightful moments, but like with all books like this it's important to remember that is simply a perspective and nothing more. It does not the entirety of autistic people.
Profile Image for Jigme Datse.
99 reviews5 followers
December 24, 2015
OK. I picked this up (I thought I had grabbed Nobody Nowhere: The Extraordinary Autobiography of an Autistic) 3 weeks ago from the library. I remembered that the first time I read these two books that I had really connected with them.

Again, I really connected with them. I don't know if this time reading them "second then first" is going to change things. I really connected with this one in particular. She talks a lot about how she is handling the process of becoming herself at the time of the publication of the first book.

There were many really powerful passages. Some of those passages were really inspiring for me, others were very painful for me.

The writing is generally amazing. There is the odd sentence here and there where I'm not sure exactly how she meant it.

After having read these the first time, I connected with Donna Williams, and remember one of the things she posted on the mailing list for her "fans" (I think the last thing she posted before shutting down the list) was a section of her writing "unedited".

The thing with that piece, was it made sense to me (she said it doesn't really make sense to anyone except herself). It seemed exactly natural. I know I *do not* write that way... But at times my mind gets very much "confused" like that. It makes sense. But not to others.
Profile Image for Valarie.
527 reviews13 followers
July 22, 2017
**Some people have called the author's autism diagnosis into question, claiming she actually suffers from dissociative identity disorder, which does make sense. Do not read this book as one of your first autism memoirs**

More structured than her first book (Nobody Nowhere), this is an interesting memoir of the challenges that face an adult with autism. Very valuable insight for anyone who works with people on the spectrum, though I'm not sure it would interest the general population.
2 reviews
April 27, 2018
Informative. My wife is in the spectrum. I am in the bipolar spectrum. Much between us is similar, but much is different. It gives me a greater understanding of her and a greater understanding of me. The only part I disliked was the standard type ending for the book. Leaving the last few lines off would have improved the ending tremendously by leaving the book open-ended.

As is I appreciated a look into the author's world, one very different and yet very similar to mine.
Profile Image for Stark.
212 reviews7 followers
September 26, 2022
Much as I have hated her writing style and..her, in this one she says some useful things about “owning yourself” making the outside world less scary
Profile Image for Nicole Serrano.
15 reviews1 follower
January 7, 2014

Donna explains how it is to be autistic, how she sees things differently and it's like a complete different world that she is accustomed to and so she tends to distances the real world and her own world. She has 3 specific characters she describes are different sides of her and then her friend, the only guy who has come closest to her world, he helps her and cares for her like no other. It was the hardest thing for her to overcome the fear of exposing her world. I found it sad how she and others were horribly neglected in the group home. I think it's important for everyone to see thing, experience thing through other's perspectives because we are truly blessed to e healthy and not have the daily struggle of a mentality war within yourself

"There was a rip through the center of my soul. Self abuse was the outward sign of the earthquake nobody saw. I was like an appliance during a power surge. as i blew fuses my hands pulled out my hair and slapped my face. they puled at my skin and scratched it. my teeth bit my flesh like an animals bites the bars of its cage."
Profile Image for Eva Arnold.
3 reviews
January 14, 2017
I found this to be an honest, insightful and incredibly meaningful book.

Donna describes her conflict between the personal and external worlds ('my world' and 'the world'), and how her understanding of the two can't exist simultaneously; either she's in touch with herself, existing in a vacuum of private language, unable to function satisfactorily according to 'the world' standards; or her identity is submerged in 'the world' characters - 'Carol' and 'Willie' in this case - whose social scripts are far departed from her own thoughts, feelings and bodily sensations. The dichotomy is a hard-hitting and thought provoking concept that structures the entirety of the book, touching on existential issues that extend even beyond the condition of autism. 'Breaking free' of autism is the individuals task of synthesizing those two worlds, bringing them into harmony with one another, and reaching a state of 'simply being'.
289 reviews7 followers
July 2, 2016
I picked up this book in the library as I have read nobody nowhere and found that I liked her voice and explanations of what being autistic was like. This second book was a little more positive as she overcame the temptation to be someone else and hide from herself and also helped others to begin to do the same. I have learned a lot about what it may be like to be autistic from reading the book. And from reading about her talking to other autistic penpals that later went on to form Autism International the largest autism mailing list I felt empowered and I learned a lot.
Profile Image for Alisa.
705 reviews66 followers
April 15, 2012
This was another one of those books where it was sitting on the shelf at work, I was bored, so I started reading. This book was interesting. It follows a womans life once she learns she has Autism. At parts it is upsetting and you feel sad for not only this woman but others whom you know have faced the same obsticles as she. I know several people whom have Autism, they learn differently, other than that they are the same as you and me.
7 reviews
April 27, 2008
This is the only book I've read thus far by someone with Autism/Asperger's Syndrome. I really enjoyed this woman's story and thought she was insightful about the ways that society might treat someone with this disability. She was really honest about her experiences and hurts, I was thankful to read it.
Profile Image for Jennifer Biggs.
72 reviews4 followers
December 22, 2011
This one was really good as well. Sometimes hard to follow, but the ideas and thoughts that Donna voices are amazing. Some left me shocked and others wanting to scream at how we treat people we feel do not belong.
Profile Image for Melanie.
32 reviews2 followers
March 16, 2009
I can't tell you how many years it's been since I stopped reading a book...I just couldn't do this one.
156 reviews2 followers
April 11, 2017
This is an inspiring story of a woman overcoming the large challenges of a form of autism. It is great at bringing the reader into her world and helping us understand not only her challenges but also those of others with different forms of autism.
Displaying 1 - 21 of 21 reviews

Can't find what you're looking for?

Get help and learn more about the design.