Robert is different. He has Asperger’s Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people—which he cannot—and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend—he’s decided it’s his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger’s, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn’t, but doesn’t mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl…and not even a major earthquake will stop him.
This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert’s point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.
I didn’t know much about Asperberger’s Syndrome before this year, except what I’d gleaned from watching two seasons of Parenthood
. Quite by accident, I ended up reading two books in as many weeks, both written by men, both featuring male narrators who are Aspies. (Honestly, when I signed up to review this one, I didn’t even know what an “Aspie” was–it just sounded like a good book, so I said yes.) These are all fairly unusual things for me, BTW–I tend to read women authors (in the romance genre anyway, I know, it’s a bias), and if there’s only one point of view told (again, in a romance) it’s usually the woman’s. I’m so glad I stepped outside my comfort zone here, both for Stim
and for the other Aspie-narrated novel I read, The Rosie Project.
Reading this novel from Robert’s point of view (don’t call him Bob, Rob, or Robbie. It’s Robert) was eye-opening. NS (non-spectrum; the 99 % of people who aren’t affected by Austistic Spectrum Disorders) people really take for granted that the world is as it is and that’s it. Seeing things from the eyes of a narrator who truly does experience the world in a different way was just amazing. This quote from the first chapter really struck me, as it explains a lot about how Robert processes things differently than most people do:
I need my routines, of knowing something familiar will happen and when and how and with whom. I cannot visualize what something is like, or how it would feel, that has not happened to me yet. All I can do is remember all the things that have happened, and find the ones that are most like whatever is happening now, and assume history repeats. Apparently, it does not exactly, but it rhymes, and that is usually close enough.
(I especially loved the line “but it rhymes, and that is close enough”–so aptly put!)
Robert needs routine, needs to be around people he knows and is comfortable with, and needs people to literally (the real literally, not the completely misused literally my junior high students throw around all the time) tell them what they mean and want. The beginning of every chapter made me giggle–Robert, who is “writing” this book as a journal, tells us what books he’s read lately, with commentary that shows his literal mind:
Books read lately: Liar’s Poker – Michael Lewis (note: this is not about dishonest card sharks playing Texas Hold ‘Em; it is a shocking and humorous account of the culture of a Wall Street investment bank….)
He cannot read the social cues that most people take for granted, which leads to a lot of frustration for him, but some amusement to the reader–while it really makes you think about the things we say versus what we actually mean–and wonder where the heck some phrases come from.
“Chloe said you are studying Economics. How are you finding that?”
“Oh, it is at the university.”
“No, I meant, is it interesting?”
Poor Stef, the other half of the above conversation, will soon regret that she asked him that. Robert “finds” his choice of major fascinating–and proceeds to talk nonstop about it for the next several minutes. Stef’s eyes glaze over, which he assumes means she’s intensely concentrating on what he is saying. Finally, Stef sees her chance, chugs her coffee, and dashes off to meet her new boyfriend for lunch.
It’s 10:34 AM.
Robert, in his first year at university, is living off campus with his good friend Chloe, who also has Asperberger’s–along with a host of other diagnoses, though she does cope much better with the world in general than Robert does–and Chloe’s cousin Stef, who is older than them both and rents a house near school. Robert has never experienced sex, though he’s decided to make “it” his major project for the year. He’s got definite ideas about what he wants–a non-AS girlfriend is top among his qualifications–and, like usually happens when you think you know exactly what you want, he has a heck of a time finding it. Beneath the “books read lately” portion of each chapter is his project status (“Number of sexual enounters: Zero” and “Number of sexual encounters: Still frustratingly zero” and “Number of sexual enounters: Now starting to lose hope entirely”). It’s blindingly clear to readers from the first chapter who he’s meant to be with, but it takes poor Robert eighteen chapters to figure it out.
There were so many laugh-out loud portions of this book–the truly terrifying Monopoly game from hell, for example, which I read out loud to Mini-Moe #1 just so I could justify the snorts of laughter that were disturbing his Minecrafting over the weekend. The kitten that the three flatmates decide to name “Sex” (as in “sex kitten”–but of course it’s going to lead to NS-world trouble later on, as you can probably guess). There were so many things that made this novel quirky and fun.
At the same time, parts were absolutely heartbreaking. Watching Robert not be able to deal with things–changes in his routine, a seemingly “normal” conversation with someone he doesn’t know well, depression caused by a chemical imbalance in his brain–was difficult. So many times I just wanted to reach in and give him a hug–not that he would have wanted that. At all. (Actually, it would have upset him greatly, so it’s probably best that I couldn’t act on that impulse.) So many times the reader can see what is happening, where something is going, and Robert can’t, and it’s so hard to just keep reading–like watching a horror movie and wanting to scream advice to the ditzy heroine (which I have never, ever done. That’s my story and I’m sticking to it).
In short, I highly recommend Stim
. I truly didn’t want to put this one down (Grading? What grading?) and would have read it in a single sitting if I could have. I’ll definitely be toward the front of the line when the next book in the series comes out
Rating: 4 1/2 stars / A rating
I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.