STIM is a sensitive and charming portrayal of an autistic man’s search for a girlfriend. Robert lives in Christchurch, New Zealand, and has Autistic Spectrum Disorder which means that he finds social situations awkward. He has difficulty reading social signals and understanding social conventions, hence finding a girlfriend is much harder for him that it is for NS (Non Spectrum) people.
This simple story glows with Robert’s earnest and honest character. His straight forward nature is the cause of much confusion for him and many chuckles for the reader, but there’s a serious side to the story, a call for celebrating neural diversity rather than shunning those whose brain works slightly differently to the norm. Reading this book will help you to understand what life is like for an autistic person and for anyone with clinical depression, that’s the kind that can be treated with medication – happy pills, as Robert calls them. You’ll also gain some insight into bipolar disorder. Robert isn’t bipolar, but he does have a manic episode when he ups his dose of happy pills.
Mr Berry draws this endearing character so well that we see the logic of Robert’s perception. Some of the things we Neuro Typical people find normal, like figurative speech for example, are ridiculous when seen from Robert’s point of view. Robert is somewhat like Sheldon Cooper of the Big Bang Theory. He has the same innocence, social ignorance, logical brain and ability to focus on obscure areas of study. Roberts language is very formal; he even speaks without contractions. At first it seems rather stiff and odd, but I soon realized now perfectly his speech patterns expressed his character.
Chloe is another wonderful character, also an Aspie, and a good friend who helps Robert to become comfortable in his own skin. In this way, it’s a coming of age story, that of a young autistic man finding his place on the world. Steph, their flatmate, is an excellent role model for how understanding NS people can be towards those with different neurological wiring. I loved it when he sent her aggro boyfriend packing.
Journal entries detailing what Robert had read recently and how much sexual activity he had had peppered the novel. The book titles and his descriptions of them were delightful as were his reactions to the question of sex. The author uses the format extremely well at the end. The book is undoubtedly well written. The character, the issues and the challenges come over loud and clear, and in an entertaining package.
This is not an an action packed book, and yet I didn’t want to put it down – an indication of the author’s skill. Robert’s life had enough tension in simple things like going to a party and working a job, and the addition of his experience in the Christchurch earthquake ramped it up at just the right point in the plot line. I really wanted Robert to find a girlfriend, but the odds seemed stacked against him. The end was not a surprise, but it was a delight.
I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert’s head. Stories about people with Autistic Spectrum Disorder are not as rare as you might think, but they are rarely touted as such – take Sherlock Holmes for example.
Well done, Mr Berry. STIM undoubtedly deserves 5 stars.