One of the unanticipated boons of having a novel published has been the amazing correspondence I have received from people who have read Saving Max. I had no idea that young people would become one of my largest groups of readers. So many teenagers who have written to me either have Asperger’s or have family members or friends who are Asperger’s. Aspies are the most fascinating people! They have such a unique view of the world.
Today I want to share some correspondence from Conor, my “#1 Irish Fan,” as he calls himself. His review of Saving Max, his ideas for a sequel, and his unique viewpoint on Max, the Asperger’s character in the book – all have endeared him to me. He is an aspiring writer, full of fabulous ideas for the sequel to Saving Max, called Finding Marianne. He is an invaluable resource!
Here are some excerpts from our emails.
Hi, Miss van Heugten,
This is my first time writing a fan email, so forgive me if the layout is all wrong. I’ve broken it down into sections…
February to Easter 2012: I was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome. When I found out…I decided to check up a list of different books with characters who have Asperger’s or something similar. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, The Curious case of the Dog in the Night, some other books and this book by the name of Saving Max. Ever hear of it? I think you have.
Sadly, I couldn’t get any of these books…as I had to study for my exams and didn’t want to get too interested in reading when I should be studying.
December 2012: I turned eighteen. Adulthood. Finally!
The start of this summer: I finished my exams and moved away from my foster family and into student accommodation. Freedom. At last.
This week: I was shopping on Wednesday as I haven’t eaten much food since I moved out of my foster home (saving money and cutting down on my weight means that I’ve spent a lot of days recently not eating anything at all) and I wanted to amend this little lifestyle problem. I was in the grocery store I was never in before and there were several books on the shelves. One book caught my eye. Saving Max. Recognizing the name, I picked it up, looked at the cover…and read the back cover. A story about a teenage boy with high functioning autism. A story about a murder. That’s right up my street. I love stories with those types of things!
WHY I LOVE THIS BOOK:
It’s incredible!…Initially, when I picked it up, I was interested as it involved murder and a boy with Asperger’s. But it’s a lot better than that: the mother-son relationship is awesome and it’s cool how you decided to tell the story through Danielle’s eyes rather than Max’s. It’s interesting to see how mental disorders affect the families of those involved. For obvious reasons, I’m used to only seeing the autistic person’s side of the story. And you’ve written the story in a way that makes me feel emotions for both Danielle and Max.
I write novels myself, but had to stop due to the exams and as I never could get the novel I really want to write to be good enough. Saving Max has now inspired me to take a more personal approach to my writing (i.e. mention things that are similar to events in my life, like having Asperger’s)…
So I’ll always remember Saving Max as the first book I properly read when I moved out and started living independently…since I turned eighteen.
There are other emails Conor and I have exchanged in which we talk about his writing and his ideas for Finding Marianne. I hope to have ongoing correspondence with him as it is a true joy for me to be allowed to encourage not just a young writer, but one with a voice I know over time will come across very strongly in whatever kind of writing he chooses to do.
I can’t tell you how many letters I have also received from mothers of children with autism asking me questions: How did you decide whether or not to medicate your children? Pick out a good psychiatrist? A decent school? Find a playgroup when other children won’t include yours? Deal with the inevitable marital stresses that arise when raising children with special needs?
I love getting those letters and emails. Now that my two boys with autism/Asperger’s are in their twenties, I think I have gained perspective and certainly a lot of information that is helpful, particularly to those who have a newly diagnosed child, grandchild, niece or nephew. Those first months and years can be very difficult and frightening and I do what I can to comfort and inform. Of course, I’m just a mother, not a doctor, and can only offer up my experiences. I’m just glad that Saving Max has served not just to entertain, but also to raise awareness about autism and strike a chord with those who have it.
What more could a writer want?