Stories are powerful forces in the lives of young people; they help us connect, learn, heal, dream, and transform. Stories help us become who we most fully are when we see ourselves and our experiences reflected in them. For children and teens on the autism spectrum, the number and variety of books with autistic characters and written by autistic authors is increasing every day, and we want to celebrate that growth!
Note: This blog post uses identity-first language which is preferred by the autistic self-advocacy movement.
Autistic children and teens are wonderfully diverse, and we share the following middle-grade and teen fiction books with you with the hope that you might see yourself reflected in the pages of one of these stories written by an autistic author.
Books for Older Children and Younger Teens:
Moonwalking by Zetta Elliott & Lyn Miller-Lachmann
This verse novel alternates between the voices of two characters: Pie Velez and JJ Pankowski, written by Zetta Elliott and Lyn Miller Lachmann, respectively. Pie and JJ each don’t quite fit who society tells them they are “supposed” to be and their stumbles into friendship throughout the story teach them about each other and themselves. This book is set in 1980s Brooklyn and explores issues of class, race, friendship, and belonging. Lyn Miller Lachmann’s understanding of herself as autistic (she was diagnosed as an adult) informed her creation of JJ’s character. To learn more about the artistic process for this book from Lyn’s perspective, check out this blog post.
The Boys in the Back Row by Mike Jung
This book shares the heartfelt story of best friends Matt and Eric, who met as fellow percussionists in the back row of band practice. Matt and Eric are unapologetically themselves, even when confronted with school bullies and circumstances they can’t control like Eric and his family moving away at the end of the school year. Their quest for a final adventure together goes in unexpected directions as they learn about each other and how to be who they are in a world that doesn’t always understand them. This story explores important issues of bullying, homophobia, identity, and friendship. Mike Jung talks about how his personal experiences as an autistic, Taiwanese American teenager led him to write this book in this blog post.
Get a Grip, Vivy Cohen! by Sarah Kapit
Vivy Cohen LOVES baseball. She has worked incredibly hard to hone her pitching skills and she is determined to succeed as both the only girl and the only Autistic kid on her baseball team. But when an in-game accident makes her mother scared she can’t be kept safe, Vivy might be off the team. It’s up to her, with help from her pen pal, major league pitcher VJ Capello, and other friends and family, to figure out how to get back in the game. This novel-in-letters explores issues of growing up, advocating for yourself, coping with change, and celebrating what makes you unique. Sarah Kapit talks about her experiences writing autistic characters here.
Ellen Outside the Lines by A.J. Sass
Meet 13-year-old Ellen, an autistic, queer, Jewish kid who is on a class trip to Barcelona, Spain, with her dad along as a chaperone. From the start, the trip doesn’t go the way Ellen mapped it out in her journal. Ellen has to change her perspective quickly and with the help of new friends, the support of her parents, and her own inner determination and moral compass, she figures out how to be true to herself and know what’s right. This book explores identity, making and repairing friendships, and recognizing and valuing true care and community. Check out this interview with author A.J. Sass about the importance of creating authentic characters with intersecting identities including autism and queerness.
A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll
When Addie learns about women who were murdered during witch trials in her very own village centuries ago, she goes on a quest to put up a village memorial to honor them. Addie knows that being autistic has marked her as different, and she feels a strong connection to these women in the past who were targeted and killed because of their differences. This story of Addie’s determination explores the challenges she experiences, from a cruel teacher and bullying classmates to indifferent and dismissive village officials, as well as her triumphs. Author Elle McNicoll talks about the necessity for books featuring autistic girls in the publishing world in this article.
Books for Older Teens:
The Art of Saving the World by Corinne Duyvis
In this fast-paced adventure story, 16-year-old Hazel’s life changes completely when she meets multiple versions of herself from other dimensions. She quickly learns that everything she’s believed about the world is now in question and she has an important role to play in - well - saving the world! If you like stories with lots of action as well as interesting characters and a thought-provoking storyline, this is a great book for you. Learn more about Corinne Duyvis’ commitment to writing disabled characters in this blog post.
Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman
Seelie is an autistic changeling who has always known she is different, even from her twin sister Isolde. In their world, magic is very real, but Seelie can't control her magic yet and when the sisters are vaulted into an unexpected adventure with the faerie world, it will be up to Seelie and Isolde to save themselves. If you enjoy fast-paced, fantastical tales (with heists!) with powerful autism representation, you'll want to check out this novel. To read about Ivelisse Housman's autistic and biracial Puerto Rican identities and how she is impacting her writing, check out this interview.
The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor
18-year-old Sam Sylvester is in a new town, in a new high school, hoping against hope that this time things will be better. Sam’s autistic and nonbinary identities have shaped who they are and Sam is proud and open. But the combination of traumatic memories from Sam’s past and learning that a kid who lived in their house, their bedroom, might have been murdered, sets a course of events in action that might have Sam trapped. This thoughtful story that defies genre expectations explores issues of bullying and hatred, love, friendship, and found community, and the unique challenges and joys of an autistic self. Learn more about author Maya MacGregor and their creation of Sam’s character in this interview.
Hell Followed With Us by Andrew Joseph White
In this book set in a near future Armageddon-like state, Benji, a 16-year-old trans boy, was raised in a fundamentalist Christian cult determined to rid the world of unbelievers. Benji escapes and joins up with a group of teen survivors at a local youth LGBTQ+ center. But that is just the start of this intense and violent account of the teens’ determination to survive and care for each other. Through the lens of the horror fiction genre, this captivating book explores important issues of identity and love, hatred and abuse, and undaunted spirit and will to thrive. Read this interview with Andrew Joseph White that explores the role his trans and autistic identities played in the story’s development.
The Brightsiders by Jen Wilde
Emmy King is a rock star which means lots of attention and unfortunately ends up in the hospital after a night of partying too much. She has super supportive friends to help her put herself back together, but being in the media spotlight might be too much for her to handle when you add in a potential new relationship with the whole world watching. If you enjoy reading about Drama with a capital D and fun reads with LGBTQ+ representation, this is the novel for you. To get to know author Jen Wilde, who is autistic and queer, better, check out this interview.