Book Review: Autism in Heels

autism in heelsAutism in Heels: The Untold Story of a Female Life on the Spectrum
by Jennifer Cook O’Toole
Nonfiction/Memoir
247 pages
Published December 2018

I try to be very mindful when reviewing books on autism, or other #ownvoices books that I’m not part of the demographic. They’re very important books for people who are not of that demographic to read – that’s how we learn about each other – but we get into iffy territory when reviewing them. It can be problematic to say “I didn’t like this book” when you’re not the target audience. That’s why for Black Enough, I linked to some #ownvoices reviewers when I didn’t care for the book. For Autism in Heels I don’t have that problem, because this is a really good book! I’m sure autistic people will still get more out of it that I did, and female autistics even more. But there were paragraphs that definitely reminded me of my husband, and we had several good conversations inspired by this book. (“What makes a good friend?” being one of the more interesting ones.)

Jenny tells an engrossing story of her life; interwoven with facts and anecdotes about female autistics in general were specific examples from her life, and both problems she’d faced because she was autistic, and problems everyone faces that were particularly problematic for her as an autistic. Much like my husband, she comes at stories sideways, giving several details and tangents before getting to the point that ties them all together. That’s much easier to deal with in print; I often have to stop my husband, specifically ask him where he’s going with his story, and then let him get back to all the surrounding details. Knowing that he DOES THAT lets us deal with it in a manner that is less frustrating for both of us. (I get frustrated because I can’t hold all the loose ends in my head without knowing how they connect, so once he gets to his point, I often have to make him repeat some of the earlier parts, and he gets frustrated because I can’t follow his train of thought.) In text form, I can skim forward when I need to and come back to the earlier tangents. I suspect she also had an excellent editor, because that only gets confusing a few times. (Or she did it herself in revisions. Either way, it’s far less confusing than a lot of conversations I’ve had with my husband!)

She does talk about some pretty intense domestic abuse from her college boyfriend near the end of the book, and then segues into eating disorders, so be aware of that. Those are both things that autistic women are particularly vulnerable to, and they definitely deserve a place in the book, but they can be difficult to read about, and my heart broke for college-Jennifer.

This is a great memoir of an amazing woman. I might need to look up her other books, even if they are targeted towards teens.

From the cover of Autism in Heels:

THE FACE OF AUTISM IS CHANGING. AND MORE OFTEN THAN WE REALIZE, THAT FACE IS WEARING LIPSTICK.

Autism in Heels, an intimate memoir, reveals the woman inside one of autism’s most prominent figures, Jennifer Cook O’Toole. At the age of thirty-five, Jennifer was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome, and for the first time in her life, things made sense. Now, Jennifer exposes the constant struggle between carefully crafted persona and authentic existence, editing the autism script with wit, candor, passion, and power. Her journey is one of reverse self-discovery not only as an Aspie but – more importantly – as a thoroughly modern woman.

Beyond being a memoir, Autism in Heels is a love letter to all women. It’s a conversation starter. A game changer. And a firsthand account of what it is to walk in Jennifer’s shoes (especially those iconic red stilettos). 

Whether it’s bad perms or body image, sexuality or self-esteem, Jennifer’s is as much a human journey as one on the spectrum. Because autism “looks a bit different in pink,” most girls and women who fit the profile are not identified, facing years of avoidable anxiety, eating disorders, volatile relationships, self-harm, and stunted independence. Jennifer has been there, too. Autism in Heels takes that message to the mainstream.

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