The Girl with the Silver Eyes by Willo Davis Roberts was first published in 1980, it is still available (check out Scholastic’s book club!) and continues to be relevant even today. Read more about how this book resonated with me as an Autistic tween.
Ostracized and Sensitive: Straight Out of the Neurodiverse Playbook
The storyline is relatively simple: Katie is ostracized by everyone because she can’t fit in. She’s got silver-colored eyes and “something” about her that people can’t quite put their fingers on. They have no way of knowing she has telekinesis, but they suspect her of being behind anything odd that happens in town. When her grandma, who has been raising her, dies, Katie moves in with her mother in an apartment in the city and starts to make friends, but when Mr. Cooper seems to be snooping around about her, she gets spooked and runs off.
Katie Was Just Like Me: How This Children’s Book Spoke to My Childhood Self
This story spoke to me as a child: I got it either in the book orders myself or as a prize in fifth-grade. That year was remarkable to me because it was the second year I was in a school where I was bullied and made, for the first time in my life, to feel worthless. I started out at a different school located in town, but due to district lines, was moved over to a smaller rural school in 4th grade. Had I started at the rural school, I likely would have fared better because kids in a small school (this one had only one grade per year) have a way of being protective of each other. However, due to an experiment when they tried to have kindergarten at the rural school for just one year, the year I was in kindergarten over at the town school, my particular class had been together forever by the time I arrived. My sister was in third grade, but knew many of her classmates because they had all gone to Kindergarten at the town school. As a result, she seemed to move there seamlessly, but I was brand-new, and they’d already made friends. I was miserable at school, but at least we had a neat teacher in fifth-grade (the fourth-grade teacher was terrifying; I saw her throw a kid across the room once, and I don’t even think he did anything all that bad).
Enter Katie Welker. I read and re-read that book so often my copy has fallen apart. Reading it now, with a neurodiverse mindset, I see a few things. First, Katie is alone and finds that only through reading can she really find herself. When she reads, she is free, and people don’t make fun of her. She is kind and tries to help people who are bullied because she, herself, was bullied. She does not judge people until/unless they are cruel or indifferent toward her. She is accepting of difference and has friends, when she makes them, of varying ages. She is a heroine that speaks to an Autistic sensibility in so many ways.
Telekenetics Need Guilds, Too: Finding Her People
When Katie finds other kids like her, silver-eyed and telekinetic, one of the first questions one of the boys asks is whether she feels like an alien. One is reminded of Temple Grandin’s famous analogy of feeling like an “anthropologist on Mars.” The resulting conversation about whether you’d side with the aliens or your parents, if it came to that, was brief, but poignant. Another is talked about in front of her parents, as if she can’t hear them talk about how weird she is and how nothing is going to change her. She does not even react to this conversation, suggesting she’s used to her difference being a wedge between her parents. There’s mention of people being afraid of what they don’t understand, and this, too, speaks to Autistics, some of whom feel like they have to bear the weight of what any Autistic person does, even if, say, it wasn’t Autism that caused the behavior, but some mental illness, and not a difference.
One of the most powerful conversations, though, is the one where the kids talk about not being alone, and seeing what they can do when they use their “powers” together. This speaks to the very real need for Autistics to find “their people” and how very exciting it can be when we find others like us, and how we can feel so much better when we do.
While there is some conversation, early on, about what “made” Katie that way (likely it was a medicine that her then-factory working mother and the mothers of the other children handled while pregnant), most of the book focuses on what to do now that she’s the way she is, not trying to eradicate her. In her particular case, the drug went off the market and they’ll never fully know what caused these children to have special powers. The conclusion also has some implications of “special” children being studied like bugs, which can be frightening, but it’s handled with care so that the reader knows that any studying going on is to help the kids and others like them, much like Sister Viktorine Zak did with Dr. Hans Asperger’s patients.
We Are Not Alone: There’s Hope for Lonely Neurodiverse People
The book speaks to the child who feels left out, that someday all the pain of bullying and ostracizing will all make sense. As an Autistic adult, though, it also speaks to me about the pain of being a child “talked about” by the adults in his or her life and blamed for being different or the feeling of being an alien. It’s a “simple” book with profound reverberations.