Everyday Hero by Kathleen Cherry


Red Cedar fiction (2017/2018) nominee Everyday Hero opens shortly after thirteen-year-old Alice and her dad have moved from Vancouver to Kitimat. A new town, a new school, a new start, that’s what Alice’s dad thinks.

“No!” Dad’s voice was so loud I could hear it through my bedroom wall. “No, Lisa! We’ve gone through this already. You look after your parents. Let me look after Alice for a change. And let me do it my way. Give her a chance to be a normal kid!”

I sat on my bed. Then I got out my Webster’s New World Dictionary with the red leather cover. I looked up the definition for normal in my dictionary. (I had to look it up because it came after mineralize.)

Normal — the average in type, appearance, achievement, function and development.

I wondered why Dad wanted me to be average in type, appearance, achievement, function and development. (p. 16)

Alice’s mum is still in Vancouver, helping her parents move into a care home.

If my mother hadn’t decided to be a sandwich, I would not have had nine detentions in January.

If I hadn’t had nine detentions in January, I would not have met Megan.

If I hadn’t met Megan, I would not have been a hero. (p. 1)

Megan is the school’s tough girl, this story’s (fandom) Eponine. Megan helps nobody, likes nobody, talks to nobody. Except Alice. This is the first time Alice has been in a school where nobody knows she is autistic. It isn’t easy. Megan is the only one who bothers to ask. They become friends.

I’m not autistic, nor have I found a review by a person with autism. If you are or have seen a review by someone who is autistic, please let me know! I’m not qualified to speak about the representation and I would be glad to hear from someone who is qualified.

Alice’s logical, literal understanding of words emphasizes the slipperiness of language, particularly how much meaning is derived from undefined social cues and norms. Within this story, the reader is thereby given more information than Alice herself processes: we not only understand the idioms that Alice so dislikes, but we are aware that Megan’s bruises are not a result of poor hand-eye coordination but of abuse long before Megan can bring herself to say so explicitly. The effect could have come across as patronizing toward Alice, but because the narrative is so wrapped up in her visceral experience of the world — and her literal, rules-based interpretation of it — the result was to give the reader a double vision: their own, likely neurotypical understanding of events; and Alice’s view of things.

Which is extremely relatable. Here’s a passage in which the language and sentence structure echo Alice’s increasing panic. The passage follows a scene in which Alice is swamped by one stimuli too many, and runs from a classroom:

But the hall was worse. It smelled of molten metal from industrial ed, burned food from cooking class, sweat, socks, perfume and hair spray. Lockers clanged. The intercom crackled. People laughed and shouted.

I couldn’t get through. Their bodies were made huge by backpacks, and thick winter coats clogged the hallway.

Like a wall. Of bodies. Of flesh. (p. 25)

So. We have two parents with different perspectives on what is best for Alice, and different degrees of being able to help. Alice’s dad means well and he isn’t precisely an antagonist, but he clearly does not know how to think beyond his own experiences and expectations.

The friendship between the two girls, and their accommodation of each other/each other’s ways of being, specifically in the way they look out for each other (in vastly divergent ways) is a major strength.

I liked Alice. I liked Megan. I wish this story was #ownvoices or that I was better able to assess the representation.