Hey! Daijah here! Today, I'm joined by the amazing Claire LaZebnik. I have the pleasure of interviewing her about her book, Things I Should Have Known, which is an amazing, unforgettable book about autism, sisterhood, and first love. You may have heard of some of her other books, such as The Trouble With Flirting or The Last Best Kiss. Without further ado, let's get into today's interview!
Daijah: It took me only two days to finish the book. That’s how much I enjoyed it. Can you give future readers a little overview of what the book is about?
Claire: Chloe Mitchell is on a quest to help her autistic sister, Ivy, find someone to hang out with and maybe even fall in love with—after all, Ivy’s been asking Chloe a lot of questions about her own boyfriend. Ivy’s classmate Ethan seems like the perfect match, so it's unfortunate that his older brother, David, is one of Chloe’s least favorite people.
Chloe, Ivy, David, and Ethan are soon spending lots of time together, and Chloe is hopeful her plan will work, until she realizes just how much she doesn't know--both about Ivy and about herself.
Daijah: I understand that one of your children is on the spectrum. Can you tell us about your experience with autism?
Claire: My oldest son (I have three boys and one girl) was diagnosed with autism when he was about three years old. He didn't speak at all and had many repetitive behaviors and didn’t interact with other kids much. We ferreted out the best ways to help him learn and grow, and our path led me to Dr. Lynn Kern Koegel, with whom I went on to write two non-fiction books about autism.
Autism is a spectrum disorder, which means it affects different people to different degrees.You can’t lump everyone with autism together, any more than you can neurotypical people. I was lucky to have a son who was bright, loving, kind and motivated to do well. His struggles were mostly with language and anxiety, but other kids with autism can have very different issues.
Over the years, I’ve become more and more convinced that people with autism bring a welcome diversity to our community. As a society, we need to make sure there’s a seat at the table for everyone. Our differences are what makes us interesting and capable of seeing solutions and creating bold new ideas. A tolerant, inclusive society benefits us all.
Daijah: I love Chloe! I just wish she would have been a bit more protective of her sister, especially when James or Sarah made insensitive comments. Maybe more like David was with Ethan. Are you more like Chloe or David?
Claire: I would argue that there are virtues to both of them: David is more of a fighter, which is good in some situations, but he’s also angrier and sometimes being angry blinds him to other people’s good intentions (like at the school they visit). Chloe is calmer and more accepting and people tend to like her better, and sometimes that’s a good thing. (You catch more flies with honey and all that.) But she does appreciate that David’s more willing to speak up when people are wrong and I like to think she learns from him that she can be true to herself and stop trying to make nice with people who don’t deserve it. I think she and David are very good for each other: she calms him down and he reminds her that you can call out people who are being jerks.
Daijah: Honestly, it got me a little upset that people were so judgmental towards Ethan and Ivy. I had to put the book down a couple times to calm down a little bit. Why was it important to you to write about the prejudice of others?
Claire: Because all around me, I see how our society self-destructs when we’re not accepting of differences. Of course I care especially about people who have autism or who are gay (I have a gay son) but I also want our communities to embrace EVERY kind of diversity and to welcome differences, not fear them. We can learn so much from people who come from different backgrounds if we’re open to listening and sharing. If we close our minds and fear anyone who doesn’t look or believe like us . . . it’s a loss, for us, for them, and for the world.
Daijah: I loved that David and Chloe were such a support system for each other. Do you think it is important for families to support each other and have other people (outside of the family) to support them?
Claire: Absolutely. It can be very isolating to have a family member with special needs—mostly because our society is so quick to reject anyone who’s different. Families will often stop doing the things they enjoy most, because they’re worried people will stare at them or judge them. But if they can connect with other families who are dealing with a similar experience, they can create a whole social life around that, and that’s liberating and comforting.
Daijah: What future do you imagine for David and Chloe after the book?
Claire: I don’t know whether they’ll always be together romantically (he’s a lot of work) but I do think they’ll stay friends forever and that they’ll always be there for each other, to listen and to counsel, when they’re trying to help their siblings. But I could definitely see them breaking up in college, dating other people, and then realizing that other people just don’t understand them as well—and then getting back together permanently.
Daijah: What other books would you recommend for people who want to read more about autistic characters?
Daijah: Are there any books you are working on? Can you tell us a little bit about what's next for you?
Claire: I’m in a funny place professionally right now. I really loved working on Thing I Should Have Known and I’m having trouble finding the same passion for the next project. So I’m fiddling around with a lot of different ideas, seeing what catches fire. I started drawing—just at a cartoon level. I’m not very good but I find it absorbing and fun the way writing used to feel to me. So I may experiment with doing something that includes drawing. I feel like I want to do something a little different—but I love writing and will never stop wanting to create more books!
That’s it for today’s interview with Claire, but don’t leave just yet. We’ve got an amazing giveaway for our readers. Just click on the image below and enter to win your very own copy of Things I Should Have Known. The contest ends on Tuesday, July 25th, and the winner must live in the United States.
Whatever you do, don't forget to come back here next week, when Sasha will be interviewing the amazing Sara Lovestram. You won't want to miss it!