Summer Book Club: "Cassandra in Reverse" by Holly Smale

August 06, 2023 Jessica Kidwell Season 2 Episode 10
Summer Book Club: "Cassandra in Reverse" by Holly Smale
Show Notes Transcript

In this session of Neuroversity Summer School, host Jessica Kidwell reviews Holly Smale's 'Cassandra in Reverse'. 

This book weaves the tale of Cassandra, a neurodivergent protagonist whose autism isn't her central focus, but a part of her multiple layers. From its take on autistic experiences to the author's own neurodiversity, this novel is a refreshing portrayal of the neurodivergent perspective. 

This book is an essential read not just for the neurodivergent, but for anyone seeking a fresh, authentic perspective. You might have just discovered your next summer read!

About the Author:
Holly Smale has been writing stories since she was four years old: constructing her own books from cereal boxes and a lot of sticky-tape, then forcing family readers to give her glowing reviews by standing in front of the television. 

Her path to publication included teen-modelling, factory-work, PR, teaching in Japan and a chaotic stint as the world's worst waitress, along with a BA in English Literature and an MA in Shakespeare from Bristol University. She uses neither of these qualifications on a daily basis, but still brings them up at parties. ​

Her debut children's novel, GEEK GIRL, became the No.1 Young Adult title in the UK and won the Waterstones YA Book Prize, selling 3.4 million books in 30 languages. It is currently in development with Netflix.

At the age of 39, Holly was diagnosed as both autistic and dyspraxic. She writes and speaks passionately about neurodiversity and a lot of random topics she's not really qualified to talk about yet does anyway.

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Speaker 1:

I'm Jessica Kidwell and this is Neuroversity Summer School Session. I read a lot for this and my other podcast. We should talk about that. So much so that it has become rare for me to read something just for fun. But I just got back from a week's vacation at the lake and I don't know about you, but when I go away I really like to read just for fun. Unlucky for me. The book I read was really fun and it also happens to be the perfect book to highlight for a Neuroversity Summer School Book Club Session. I really do love when efficiencies like that come together. So curious minds. Let's get this summer book club session started. The book I'm highlighting is Cassandra in Reverse by Holly Smale. Well, that's actually what it's called here in the US, but everywhere else and for the record, there are plenty curious minds listening outside the US Everywhere else the book is called the Cassandra Complex. And just as Cassandra in Reverse was approaching its June release date here in the US, it was also selected as the pick for Reese's Book Club. Yeah, reese Witherspoon. Some other notable picks for that particular honor are Daisy Jones and the Six by Taylor Jenkins. Yellow Face by RF Kwong. The Nightingale by Kristen Hannah, where the Craw Dads Sing by Delia Owens. Those are some pretty great female-centered novels. So if it's good enough for Reese, it's good enough for me and, by extension, good enough for me to share with you and for any of my attention-based forms of neurodivergent listeners. I'm going to go ahead and give you the bottom line up front. I love this book, and now let me tell you why. First, since this is a podcast about elevating neurodivergent voices and experiences, it may come as no surprise that the main character, cassandra, is neurodivergent. She's autistic. Yet rather than being a story centered around her autism, it's just woven throughout the story. In fact, the word autistic isn't even written until page 345 out of 359. Cassandra is on a hero's journey and a time-space journey, as it turns out, and her neurodivergence aids and abets this journey, but it most certainly is not the cause of or purpose for the journey. I love a strong, layered, authentic female character in any novel, which Cassandra definitely is, all of those things, and I love that she also happens to be a strong, layered, authentic and autistic female character. Let me give you a synopsis of the plot of this book. To do that, I'm just going to read directly from the book jacket. Cassandra Penelope Dankworth is a creature of habit. She likes what she likes museums, jumpsuits. Her boyfriend will and strongly dislikes what she doesn't Mess change her boss drinking out of her mug. Her life runs in a pleasing, predictable order until now. She's just been dumped, she's just been fired, her local café has run out of banana muffins and something truly unexpected happens Cassie discovers she can go back and change the past. Now Cassie should be able to find a way to fix the life she accidentally obliterated. And with time on her side, how hard can it be? This utterly charming novel tells the story of Heartbreak, second chances and one woman's journey through time to discover that thinking and feeling differently from those around her doesn't mean she's broken. Although there's clearly coded language to pick up on in this synopsis creature of habit, life runs in a pleasing, predictable order. Thinks and feels differently from those around her, the novel doesn't lead with. This is a book about an autistic woman, which, in my opinion, widens the audience that will read the book, who will then get to meet a strong, layered, authentic and autistic female character. The next reason I love this book is because the author, holly Smale, is autistic, which means the novel supports the autistic self-advocacy network's platform Nothing About Us Without Us. She was late diagnosed and speaks about it often. Holly has said in interviews on the publicity tour for the novel that Cassandra is basically her. Cassandra's autistic experience is therefore written from the inside out, whereas so many other autistic characters are written from the outside in and based upon what someone thinks an autistic experience might be. And for me, the reader who is neurotypical and has an autistic daughter, I experienced over and over again the sense that through Cassandra, I was being given the opportunity to see the world from a neurodivergence perspective, if I was willing to. There are so many examples where this opportunity is given throughout the book, but I will not go through all of them for two reasons. Number one, because this is not some sort of a Cliffs Notes show to serve as a substitute for actually reading the book. And two, I don't want to rob you of the opportunity to experience this book, however you are meant to. I don't want my experience to become your experience, but I do want to share with you just one of the amazing examples that I was really drawn to in the book, and it happens in chapter two really early. It's an autistic meltdown and I have a general sense of what a meltdown is. I know that it is an end result to a series of many, many other things that have happened prior to the meltdown, and it's the piling on of all of those things that have caused an overwhelm of the person's sensory systems to a point where all coping or masking capabilities collapse. I also know what to look for when it comes to how my child reacts when she is becoming sensory overloaded and heading towards a shutdown. But the author takes this general sense, or the assumptions that I have, and, through her brilliant and gifted use of words, spells out and basically paints in great detail how a meltdown happens and how the character of Cassandra experiences it first hand. And all of this happens without ever explicitly announcing or referencing to the reader what you're reading here is a meltdown. That's why I love this book, why I love this author. We, as the reader, get to experience Cassandra as a whole person, not Cassandra as the poster child for an autistic person. This scene, this beautifully, painfully detailed scene, is just one moment in the story, although it is one that I have read and reread over and over, because it is incredibly helpful to me as someone who loves and lives with an autistic person to gain a sense of an experience that I know she has, but doesn't necessarily always have the words or bandwidth to be able to describe it to me. That's just one example. This book is full of others which I can't wait for you to experience. Cassandra in reverse is fun and smart and absolutely worth picking up as a summer read or anytime read, really, and I'd love to hear from you after you read it. What did you think? Did you love it like me or maybe not, and I'd like to hear about that too. You can always email me at neuroversitypod at gmailcom, or reach out to me directly on Instagram, facebook threads or LinkedIn at neuroversitypod. I'd love to keep the learning and conversation going. I'm going to put a link to the book in the show notes for you to check out, and you should buy it. That's all for now, at least, until our next session of Neuroversity Summer School. Neuroversity is hosted and produced by Jessica Kidwell. Our audio engineer is Jarrett Nicolay at Mixtape Studios. Jarrett also created our theme music. Graphic Design for Neuroversity by Kevin Adkins. Love Support is provided by George Fox. For more information about this episode, ways to support the podcast or anything related to neuroversity. Please visit our website at wwwneuroversitypodcom. You can also follow us on your podcast app and social media sites. We are at neuroversitypod on Instagram, twitter, linkedin and Facebook and if you like what we're doing, please tell others about neuroversity and give us a review on Apple Podcasts. There's plenty of room for more curious minds to enroll.