A Boy Called Bat (Bat Trilogy #1)
Elana K. Arnold (Juvenile Ficiton)
Bixby Alexander Tam, nicknamed Bat, has a long list of things he doesn’t like: unspoken rules, people rumpling his hair, eating leftovers, food smashed together, cheese that has to be sliced, loud sounds, and waiting. But one thing that Bat DOES like is the orphaned newborn skunk that his veterinarian mother brings home one day. Although it’s hard for Bat to connect with people, he forms an instant bond with the kit and silently promises the animal that he will figure out a way to keep him. With the help of his third-grade teacher, Bat forms a plan that’s sure to make the baby skunk a permanent member of the Tam family. Afterall, Bat made a promise and he never lies. Lying makes him feel itchy…another thing that Bat doesn’t like.
A Boy Called Bat is the first in a series of three books in the Bat Trilogy. Written with candor and warmth, Arnold gives young readers a story of a boy on the autism spectrum who struggles to regulate his emotions, understand non-verbal social cues, navigate unexpected circumstances, and just adjust to life in general. We wince as we watch Bat say things without thinking, misread body language, and overreact to situations that all end in awkward and painful outcomes. Arnold accurately captures the nuances that are associated with the autism spectrum such as dealing with the subtleties of sarcasm or taking idioms literally. Spoken language along with unspoken facial cues and body gestures are just everyday landmines that Bat has to constantly tiptoe around with one wrong step spelling disaster.
Although I am a sucker when it comes to brother-and-sister relationships that are all cuddles and kisses and unicorn wishes, I did appreciate Arnold portraying Bat’s sister Janie realistically. She often loses her temper with Bat, she knows exactly what buttons to push when she wants a reaction out of him (and she DOES push), and yes, she thinks he’s weird. But Janie’s human and you really can’t fault her for wanting a predictable trip out or just ONE boring dinner with no drama. Yes, she’s a stinker because she knows better than anyone else how many things are out of Bat’s control, but I think that’s why I like her so much. She’s every sibling out there who assumes the dual roles of defender and detractor and it’s rewarding and exhausting at the same time. For every Bat, there’s one or two Janies and they deserve attention, patience, and understanding as well.
I think my favorite part of the book was how Bat viewed his mom: “Then he followed Mom through the door that separated the waiting room from the back and watched as she took her white coat from its hook. She put it on, and then Mom was Dr. Tam. A veterinarian. Better than a superhero.” Valerie Tam wasn’t a superhero because she was able to make sick animals well. She was extraordinary because she championed and believed in a boy who thought himself to be less than perfect. Parents of neurodiverse children put on a cape every single day—not because they want to, but because they have to because they know exactly who they’re fighting for and what they’re fighting against and they won’t ever, ever give up. Take that, Superman.
* Book cover image attributed to: www.abebooks.com
We’re now posting videos of some of our book reviews! Follow us on Facebook at www.facebook.com/thedustyjacket or on Instagram @tdjreviews and join in on the fun!