Pronouns are confusing for Martin. So when the narrative of Hilary Reyl’s debut, Kids Like Us, begins in the second person, the reader immediately experiences some of the same disorientation that plagues Martin daily. As a teen with autism, Martin is deeply connected with his inner world. He’s currently attending a summer school while his mother directs a movie in the French countryside. Martin speaks French fluently—in part because his father is French, and also because Martin is obsessed with Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time. This fixation leads Martin to imbue his life in France with an exhilarating level of meaning. At school, Martin believes that he has met his own Gilberte, and gradually Martin develops a genuine relationship with the girl despite her neurotypical limitations.
Martin’s voice is original and completely immersive. Living in France intensifies his affinity for Proust, as everything—the madeleines, the hawthorn bushes, the French language itself—is laden with importance. It is here, far removed from the routine of his life back in Los Angeles, that he makes tremendous strides in recognizing the distinction between his internal absorption and the independent emotional experiences of the people around him. Reyl makes it clear that Martin’s motivation for change is his own quest for broader emotional understanding rather than a need to “fix” his autism.
Kids Like Us is a beautiful and insightful debut novel that’s reminiscent of the work of Francisco X. Stork.
Diane Colson is the Library Director at City College in Gainesville, Florida.