McNicoll is a frustrating author; A Kind of Spark remains my favorite book with an autistic main character, but her follow-ups have felt progressively more ham-fisted. That isn’t to say I didn’t still enjoy them, just that I know she can handle things more deftly than this.
In Like a Charm, we have what is, on the surface, a rather personal story for McNicoll, as her main character this time has dyspraxia, something McNicoll herself suffers from. Only it feels like things have started to boil down to a homogenous neurodivergent soup. Granted, I’m not super familiar with all the colors of the neurodivergent rainbow, so to speak, but it feels like we keep coming back to the same touchstones.
What I mean is that, whether there is overlap or not between the different types of neurodivergents, we keep focusing in on the same symptoms, such as stimming, or speak broadly of the neurodivergent community rather than honing in more on the one being represented at this particular point in time. While A Kind of Spark felt like a rather comprehensive look at autism, I don’t feel as if I got the same education on dyspraxia or ADHD from McNicoll’s last two books.
On top of that, characters more and more feel like they’re neurodivergent simply for the sake of it. We learn late in Like a Charm that one character is autistic and I kept waiting for McNicoll to help us understand what that meant for them, but it never seemed to go much beyond “they’re autistic, trust me.” I just don’t get how we go from A Kind of Spark, with an autistic main character so fully fleshed out, to what feels like outright tokenism to pad the numbers and further the “neurodivergent people are magic” message that seems to get less subtle with each book.
That all having been said, I still liked our main character, the idea that normal humans (who can’t see through the “glamour”) basically made things up whole cloth about mythical creatures, and the strained family dynamic. It’s just a shame McNicoll did such a messy job wrapping it all up together in one package. Maybe we’ll get nuance in the sequel that’s due out next month? A guy can hope.