C.G. Drews's Reviews > What to Say Next

What to Say Next by Julie Buxbaum
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bookshelves: autism, contemporary, read-2018, young-adult

I went in a with a biiiit of trepidation because I'd seen some low reviews and the first chapter rang hella warning bells. It did have things I appreciated in it, but honestly? The autism rep was harmful.

Things I liked included: the pacing was really good and I enjoyed the dialogue. David's family dynamics (epic sister and sweet parents) were fantastic and that's what I love seeing in contemporaries. The author (I believe?) drew from personal experience to write the Indian/biracial rep for Kit. David was not fully an autistic stereotype which was refreshing. And it does deal with grief and depression very realistically.

...however...

While I liked the plot twist at the end (as in it was surprising)...I absolutely hated Kit's reaction to David's reaction. I think she was actually completely unfair. Also Kit has so much girl-on-girl hate happening in the book. And can we talk about the bullying of David scenes? The bullies never got consequences. This principal at the end is all "we have a zero bully tolerance!" but David literally got nearly drowned in a toilet (full of shit) and the bullies (who he knew and named) never got suspended. wtf.

Also David has a bit of a "makeover" from school freak to "hottie" and absolutely everyone immediately started sexualising him, aka he is just a piece of meat, aka if a girl had this storyline it would be absolutely unacceptable, aka it's unacceptable to do to a boy too.


And can we talk about the autism rep for a moment?
I'll be honest, as an autistic, I'm upset and hurt. In chapter one (CHAPTER FRIKKIN ONE) David lists all the ways he's autistic. And he IS VERY AUTISTIC. He's textbook diagnosable ok. But then he goes on to say "but I can make eye contact when I have to and I'm empathetic -- so the label doesn't apply to me."
Chapter one.
You couldn't even go 10 pages without insulting autism and autistic people.
Autistic people can be empathetic and have emotions and socialise and be sarcastic and make contact COULD WE STOP WITH THIS GROSS ERASURE AND STEREOTYPING.

So yes I'm a little a lot upset. Plus what makes it hard, is that David's autism is REALLY well written. He is not a stereotype! I found him really relatable and tons of his quotes were like "omg me" moments (like when he describes how he likes texting because he has time to formulate a response: YES). He was sweet and kind and tried his best. He was brutally honest at times which I actually loved too AND he was smart but not blindly socially inappropriate. Because he's sixteen. This book actually gave us a boy who's worked hard to fit in but not change himself.

But add in all these parts where he constantly refused to use the word autism/Asperger's (THEY'RE NOT BAD WORDS) and also a huge point of the book was that he had to "fit in" for EVERY instance, but non-autistic people never had to make concession for him. He made an "Aspie mistake" but it was ALL on him to apologise (Kit was the moral high ground the whole time despite her having done actually terribly invasive things to him earlier: re reading his journal. But noooo, when HE makes a mistake, WHICH SHE ACTUALLY PUSHED HIM TO DO, it's all on him.) I feel like the crux of the book was "be less autistic!!" which I find 90% of books with autistic characters to do. Like every time he slipped up and wasn't "neurotypical enough"...Kit would reject him and he would get in serious trouble (often actually physically dangerous trouble from bullies) around him. This is like...so freaking scary and harmful. His sister and Kit and the school only liked him if he wasn't being autistic.

It's depressing to read as it is damaging. I would not recommend this to autistic teens to read at all...so then who is the rep for? Neurotypicals feeling good that they "fixed" an autistic? I'm leaving now.
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Reading Progress

October 27, 2017 – Shelved
October 27, 2017 – Shelved as: to-read
January 12, 2018 –
10.0% "wow chapter one. ONE. It couldn't even get that far without being seriously offensive to autistic people wtf 😒😒"
January 13, 2018 – Started Reading
January 13, 2018 – Shelved as: autism
January 13, 2018 – Shelved as: contemporary
January 13, 2018 – Shelved as: read-2018
January 13, 2018 – Shelved as: young-adult
January 13, 2018 – Finished Reading

Comments Showing 1-18 of 18 (18 new)

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message 1: by Nitzan (new) - added it

Nitzan Schwarz Reading your review makes me really sad, as my younger brother and best friend are autistic (and she has Asperger's too) and everything you're saying are right... My best friend is actually the most precious, empathetic person in the universe and so many people just LOVE her and she doesn't see it (my brother is a typical sullen teen lol)

Anyways, I wish this book hadn't done that... Not going to read this one...


message 2: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Nitzan: It's particularly disappointing when David is such a good autism rep! He's empathetic and kind and intelligent...and has a ton of ASD traits that are relatable and true! But then the book has to go undermine it all and treat autism as a negative thing?! :(


message 3: by Katie (new)

Katie  Hanna That's so sad :-/


message 4: by Brinkley (new)

Brinkley And with that, this Aspie is taking this book off of her TBR.

I'm sorry. BE LESS AUTISTIC??? I'm just... I'm sorry, but NO. We CANNOT be less autistic. This book saying that that could be a possibility is troubling enough. And then we have an autistic character INSULTING AUTISM??? That is enough for me to want to kill this book with fire. And then getting blamed for having autism? JESUS H CHRIST. Join the Paper Princess pile, What to Say Next.

Speaking of that review, I hope this one gets as much buzz as the Paper Princess review. This one DESERVES the buzz. We need to expose this problematic rep. As someone with autism, I think that it will help people understand that we aren't villains. David is, in a way, villainized, as Kit seems to get away with everything, even though she is the guilty one.

Also: OBJECTIFICATION.

(Sorry for the overuse of all-caps. This review made me angry.)


message 5: by Jazzy (new) - added it

Jazzy woooow and I was actually looking forward to liking this book. Sheesh i’m sorry... I wish I could make all the books you pick up wonderful, Cait!!


jencurrentlyreading I have been so apprehensive to read this book (my youngest has Autism)-so i really appreciate your review.


message 7: by Tandie (new) - added it

Tandie I love JB’s writing style and want to read David as a character you say represents autism well. I’m glad for your review and will be looking for the things you point out.


message 8: by Tandie (new) - added it

Tandie As a person with acute agoraphobia and extreme social anxiety, high school was horribly difficult. I do think that in general, it’s okay to make adjustments to ‘fit the norm’ in many situations, like work and school - BUT I think the people we’re around every day should also be willing to make adjustments. I’m talking about everyday acquaintances, actual friends will accept us with all our quirks.
I do think it’s okay to ask each other to change BEHAVIORS, and not necessarily asking them to be less themselves. Compromise is part of every relationship. The thing that is key is kindness.


message 9: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Brinkley: Yeah I'm disappointed. :( Although I definitely don't think it's to the level of Paper Princess and for this one I don't think anything was of "ill intent"...but that doesn't matter when I feel (although I guess I could've misinterpreted?) that the crux of the story was how happy and excited everyone was every time David achieved the next level of Not Autistic. (And ffs I just hate how people treat the word "autism" as a bad word??!?!? WHAT YEAR IS IT.)


message 10: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Jazzy: Aww that's a really nice thing to say though thank you!

@Jen: If you do read it, I'd be interested to know what you think of the rep!


message 11: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Tandie: Absolutely! It a "perfect world" we'd all just get to be ourselves and it'd be fine...but yeah it's not. :( And autistics need to learn social skills and how to fit in too just like every single human in the world. (Like if David hurts someone of course he needs to apologise! Same for anyone of ever.) But David's "makeover" didn't stop his bullying though and it was more in the...like you know how a girl will change her clothes and hair to get the guy? That's why David had his makeover. :( I hate that trope personally.

(Also I feel for you with the social anxiety. *sends warm cakes* I relate and it's very tough. 😭)


message 12: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Cassandra: This book has such a poisonous underlying tone that's for sure.


message 13: by belle jane (new)

belle jane agh was really hoping this book would be good based on the pretty cover. but alas... :( I'm sorry it had such terrible messages. I'll be taking a pass on this one.


Patricia Burroughs I listened to the audiobook so I may have missed or misunderstood something. But he obsessively read the DSM and early on said that they'd removed Asperger's and that it doesn't exist as a diagnosis any more. I interpreted all that to show his literal-mindedness, accepting that he isn't Aspergers, and trying to find where he fit in. Thus at the end he had to go to an old DSM to show the definition of Asperger's. In other words, I thought it was all part of his own attempts to understand his own identity and he just hadn't managed to get there yet. But I also could very easily be wrong. Your review has made me want to read the book instead of just listening because I respect your experience and position and want to see how I missed some of what bothered you.

As for what happened at the very end--I'm sorry. I felt David was being objectified not just by the other girls [once he got 'hottified'] but even she was seeing him that way to a large extent. At least she'd recognized his good looks before and the after wasn't a total transformation for her, like it was for others.

But I felt what she went through in the diner--his innocent but brutal ripping away a bandage that had covered not just her grief but her shame with others present to hear--and then his own self-absorbed emotions to the entire thing--I did not blame him for it one bit. But I also feel her heart was eviscerated when he not only did what he did but also reacted the way he did. Thank you for your review. I'm so glad I found and read it.


message 15: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Patricia: Sorry I'm a bit confused by your comment... Aspergers is autism. The diagnosis didn't vanish with the updated DSM, it's been put under the autism-umbrella. You can't be aspergers but not autistic. (And just a heads up that it's always disappointing, as an autistic, to be called "self-absorbed" bc we might not have display outward emotions in a typical fashion.)


Patricia Burroughs My apologies. The last thing I wanted was to misuse my words so that they insulted. Gads, I can be such a dumbass. I'm so sorry.

I realize that Aspergers is autism. I probably shouldn't have commented until I reread the book. I thought early on David said/thought that the new DSM no longer had a section on Aspergers, which unmoored him, and was why he kept returning to it, trying to find himself in it. Clearly I misheard or misunderstood what I heard. Clearly my writer-brain supplied elements that weren't there!

Okay, enough musing. I am off to get the book in text because I have all sorts of questions now. Again, thank you for your review, and for your answer! Oh--and thanks especially for the heads up on self-absorbed. I definitely used the word without thinking it through, because I certainly didn't intend it to be a negative--simply a fact, something he couldn't have done any other way, no fault or blame assigned. But now looking back at it, I see that the word itself not only covers negative baggage but certainly is a horrible way to describe an autistic. Thanks for educating me so I hopefully won't make that mistake again.


message 17: by C.G. (new) - added it

C.G. Drews @Patricia: It's ok! Sorry if I came off as sounding short! And I also admit I don't remember the exact wording of the first chapters either as I read this over a year ago. And I don't know what the author's intent was with David's thinking, whether she has personal experience with autism or used sensitivity readers, so there's a lot to speculate on. No two autistics are the same, as we all know!


message 18: by Patricia (last edited Feb 22, 2019 04:37PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Patricia Burroughs I have ADHD, dyscalculia and associated cognitive disorders. I don't know whether I can blame it on my brain or not, but I do have a gift for foot-in-mouth even when I'm trying to do the opposite. All I can do is try to learn and move forward. I much rather you straighten me out than have you sit back and let me walk away unaware. So no need for apologies. You gave me exactly the kind of feedback I want and I thank you for it!

ETA: I also am aware that it's not your job to educate the oblivious so the fact that you did is very much appreciated!


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