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The Rosie Project - Graeme Simsion

For more reviews, check out my blog: Craft-Cycle

This is a hard one for me to rate. There were things I liked and things I didn't like. 

I didn't know anything about this book going into it. I have seen the cover and heard the title in various bookish escapades, but never read the summary. I saw a copy of the audiobook at the library and thought it would be a nice book to listen to in the car on my way to work (I work with children on the autism spectrum).

I did not know that this was a book about someone who (most likely) is on the autism spectrum with what would have been diagnosed in the past as Asperger's. In many ways, Don characterizes the stereotypical attributes of someone with Asperger's (sensory overload problems, preference for schedule and routine, difficulty understanding emotions and social cues, hard time feeling empathy for others and taking the perspective of others). 

Don's character is very open about discussing these topics and how they affect his life. It is clear Simsion did some homework for this book. In that way, I liked the book. Yes, the first-person narration gets a bit annoying at times, because Don speaks in a very computer-based language. This may be typical for some people on the autism spectrum, but it's a little irritating to read as the narration of a novel. Not a criticism, just an observation, as the narration is true to Don's presentation of his character. 

After a while Don kind of grows on you, although I'm with Rosie on the creepy objectifying-ness of the whole Wife Project. Obviously, that is not his intention, but it was kind of weird that it's objectifying nature wasn't discussed more in the text. I understand the difficulty for many people on the spectrum to take others' perspectives (realizing other people are autonomous and do not exist just in relation to you), but as a woman, it still made me uncomfortable that this was such a big element in a rom-com-like story and then wasn't discussed outside of Rosie's sarcastic remarks (that go completely over Don's head, because he cannot read the sarcasm. Dammit, Rosie, just say what you mean already.)

The thing that really bugged me about the book was the "changes" Don makes after meeting Rosie. Essentially, she is his opposite. She's impulsive, messy, habitually late, and doesn't plan ahead. It goes the typical way you'd expect any novel to go that has a red cover and a giant heart on it. The resolution of the book was pretty predictable. But here is what really got me:






Once he decides he wants to be with Rosie romantically, Don magically changes himself into someone who, is still a bit weird, but fits into society for the most part. He drops the computer language when speaking aloud. He's suddenly better at understanding social situations (yes, some of this is due to encounters he had on his escapades with Rosie over time, but all of a sudden he's motivated to change his behavior based on these experiences). And it was all because of Rosie. How sweet. Except that, for real-world people on the spectrum, it's not that easy. In Simsion's world, if a person has a strong-enough motivation, they can overcome the difficulties of Asperger's. They just need to love someone enough to change. This is problematic considering, even children on the spectrum who had parents who love them, advocate for them, and would do anything for them, still struggle, because it's not necessarily a matter of will. As Don says, he is "wired differently". That in itself isn't a problem, as Don shows, since there are plenty of benefits to Asperger's (thinking is a different way than neuroticals to create new systems and solutions, being more time-efficient and detail-orientated), but those social things might be harder.

It's something you learn over time and for a lot of people, it's still a conscious effort. For Don, it was more like, "This is just what I'm going to do. I'm going to be more normal." It appeared effortless all of a sudden, because he had enough love in his heart now to want to change (eye roll). Don has been acting this way for more of his life, now he essentially has to unlearn all of that protocol and replace it with a new understanding. And he does this all in such a short, unrealistic time all by himself. I think the effort and work required on Don's part was overlooked and this ignore's how much people on the spectrum actually do on a day-to-day basis. 

Also... that marriage proposal. Okay, I get that you guys are old, but you haven't even known each other that long. You don't even know if you would be comfortable living together, sleeping together, or having sex with each other. And now you're prepared to get marriage? Chill out and date for a bit, then figure out the marriage stuff. Jeez. It's okay to plan a little. (END SPOILER)

Overall, a decent book that had some good depictions of someone with Asperger's and some not-so-good depictions. In general, I think Simsion did a pretty good writing of one individual's experience with Asperger's, but then it all sort of unraveled at the end like he was just over the whole autism spectrum storyline. 

My only other comment is on the audiobook itself. Dan O'Grady does a good just narrating the book, but sometimes he got a little too-into-character for me. You wouldn't think that would be a problem, but listening to the book in the car while driving proved difficult at times. O'Grady often speaks louder when reading the male dialogue (Why is Gene essentially screaming every line?) while he uses a softer voice, almost a whisper for female characters (I feel like Claudia just said something really important, but I have no idea what it was. I'll have to rewind once I'm done changing lanes.). This led to a lot of volume adjusting and rewinding, which was a bit annoying.