Who: Frances Maynard teaches English to adults with learning difficulties, including Asperger Syndrome. Her insights into neuro-atypical adults helped form the protagonist of her debut novel, The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr.
What: Twenty-seven year old Elvira Carr (Ellie) has lived a sheltered existence due to her overbearing mother, who believes that Ellie’s neuro-atypical mental condition prevents her from meaningful participation. Ellie is not at all prepared to for the real world when she’s forced to do so after her mother suffers a stroke. Together with the help of her neighbour, Sylvia, Ellie draws up seven rules to help her interact with people and the world around her. However, when she stumbles upon a mystery surrounding her deceased father, she realises that she will have to go beyond her seven rules if she is to come to terms with the truth.
Why: Having Ellie as narrator makes this novel truly special because for many of us, it’s difficult to comprehend just how literal neuro-atypicals relate to or respond to people and the world around them. For instance, social cues that might be obvious to us “NormalTypicals” slip right by Ellie. Aside from the challenges that come with having to live on her own and figuring things out for herself for the first time in her life, Ellie also has to deal with the echoes of her mother’s overbearing and often patronising voice in her head. We feel nothing but empathy for Ellie.
Over the course of the book, Ellie comes into her own as a person. There are victories big and small, such as learning how to use a computer and Google, and volunteering at a zoo. She also makes plenty of mistakes, of course, as in when she decides to help her neighbour Sylvia retrieve her granddaughter. When her world is completely shaken up upon uncovering the truth about her late father, Ellie has to dig deep to find the strength to deal with it and move forward.
Best/Worst Line: “Rules change depending on the situation and the person you are speaking to.”
Verdict: Heart-warming and uplifting, interspersed with some bitter and sad moments, this ultimately feel-good novel hits all the right notes. (7.5/10)
Availability: Trade paperback, RM75.90