Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll is a sci-fi book set in the near future, suitable for children from about 9 to 14 years. It is a story of friendship and grief and a beautiful celebration of neurodivergent people by a neurodivergent author. ‘Neurodivergent’ refers to people whose brains function differently to what would be considered ‘typical’ – it encompasses a broad spectrum, including autism and ADHD, the conditions explored through Cora (the main character), and her best friend Adrien.
Show Us Who You Are captures the difficulty of making friends when there’s something about most social situations you’re missing, of feeling there’s a script to learn and rules in conversation to work out along the way. It also captures how much easier it is to leave the script behind when you find someone whose brain works a similar way. Adrien is funny and unpredictable and above all understanding – he describes Cora’s autism and his ADHD as ‘cousins’, and does not expect her to behave in a neurotypical way. Cora and Adrien’s relationship is central to the story – it not only sparks the plot but is integral to Cora’s own journey of discovering herself and her identity as worth fighting for.
‘Pomegranate is going to let people live forever’ (p.111).
Through skilfully created holograms, in-depth interviews, and artificial intelligence, the complex technology behind the Pomegranate Institute has a simple aim – digital immortality. The memorialising of a loved one is an idea that resonates with anyone who’s lost someone, anyone who wished for the time for one more conversation, and Cora is no exception. She is naturally drawn to the programme after her mum’s death a year previously, to the idea that she could help others visit their loved ones in the future, that if her mum had been interviewed by the Institute, she could speak to her now. This is the emotion those running the Pomegranate Institute rely on, and the book captures the cynical way in which corporations so often prey on the vulnerable. As readers, we perhaps have more insight into the intentions of Pomegranate than Cora – we are more likely to take heed of Adrien’s warnings, of her dad’s concerns, to look more critically at the opportunities they give Cora and the motives behind them – and yet we understand perfectly why she is so drawn to them. Through every red flag in Cora’s experiences, the ache of loss remains as she struggles to decide what she is willing to sacrifice to hold on. Despite the key role grief plays in the book, the end of Show Us Who You Are is overwhelmingly hopeful; despite all that Cora has lost, she has found a confidence to pursue her dreams, defend her values, and stand up for herself and other neurodivergent people.
Show Us Who You Are is a book about a lot of things. It is about finding friendship in places you didn’t expect, a platonic love story about deep understanding and how bringing out the joy in other people and finding it in yourself often go hand in hand. It is about grief, the lengths we go to hold onto someone we love and how no matter how far we’re willing to go, the fact of loss remains. It is about people with power, what they will use against you and what they will try to take from you. But primarily it is a book about standing up for your right to exist in a world that seeks to change you.
Many books about autistic children are written from the perspective of brothers or sisters or parents who have to ‘deal’ with their child or sibling’s ‘difficulties’. Most stories about neurodivergent children are written by neurotypical authors. Elle McNicoll’s own experiences are central to Show Us Who You Are – it is authentic and heartfelt and explores a perspective that is far too rarely represented. McNicoll has said in interviews she will ‘never tire’ of writing neurodivergent characters; I certainly won’t tire of reading them and look forward to being the first to check out her latest release Like a Charm as soon as it arrives at the ELS.