BooksforTopics Reading for Pleasure Recommendations
Book Title: Show Us Who You Are (available here)
Author: Elle McNicoll
Publisher: Knights Of
Publication Date: March 2021
Most Suitable for: Years 5-6+
Review by: Alison Leach
We receive hundreds of books to review each month and yet there are some that still make me do a little happy dance of anticipation when they drop through the letterbox. Show Us Who You Are was one of those - the new title from Elle McNicoll, who made a spectacular entrance to the children’s book scene last year with her debut middle grade novel, A Kind of Spark.
Noteworthy for its watertight plot, nuanced characters and a generous helping of raw emotion textured through the storytelling, A Kind of Spark was timely and important as an OwnVoices story with a neurodivergent main character. When Show Us Who You Are arrived promising a second neurodivergent protagonist but this time with the intrigue of sci-fi elements thrown into the mix, I knew I had to see for myself whether that infamously difficult second novel could possibly live up to the author's first. Gleefully, I’d say that Elle McNicoll has exceeded what was achieved in A Kind of Spark and produced an exceptionally assured, fresh and impactful story that is as gripping as it is unforgettable.
The story follows twelve-year-old Cora, who describes herself as autistic, as she befriends a boy called Adrien at a party that she never wanted to go to. A little unwilling at first, Cora is used to distrusting others and feels sure that Adrien's intentions are unlikely to be driven by genuine interest in her. In no time at all, Cora learns to trust Adrien, who confides in her about his own ADHD, and as the pair become close they enjoy each other’s unquestioning acceptance and bond over their experiences of not quite fitting in at school.
Adrien’s Dad runs a company called ‘Pomegranate Technologies’, and Cora finds herself drawn to their innovative programme of creating incredibly lifelike holograms (or ‘grams’) of people. Having recently lost her own mother, the idea of being able to interact with a loved one after they die appeals instantly. Cora is intrigued to discover that scientists at the institute are keen to interview her as a 'person with autism', and after an unexpected event happens with Adrien she agrees to help. Before long, Cora notices something amiss with one of the grams and begins to unravel some surprising truths about what is really going on behind the scenes at Pomegranate...
There was so much to enjoy in this book. I loved the depth of the storytelling - the multilayered writing with its many allusions, symbols and reflections that provoke an enjoyable tension between feeling the need to pause for thought and wanting to rip on through the genuinely gripping plot. The writing is bold and Cora’s experiences are uncomfortable at times, but as a reader I was rooting for her every step of the way. I enjoyed the artificial intelligence strand of the plot very much, and in particular how thought-provoking the story was with regard to the ethics of AI in both the hypothetical sense of holograms, but also hinting at a closer, everyday sense - for example in the value of applying Photoshop filters to 'improve' natural images, in the rules of handling the social media accounts of deceased loved ones, in the ensuring of the fair use of technology that truly respects the humanity of those without a voice in its development. There's food for thought aplenty, and yet the writing is watertight and never strays from the plot to dwell on these themes or impose judgement. I also enjoyed the emerging themes of acceptance and the importance of being true to oneself. There is one particularly delicious scene in which Cora’s courage to stand up and be counted for who she really is leads to her witnessing how a crowd of voices supporting diversity are able to triumph over a formerly powerful voice of opposition.
This is a stand-out story for me so far this year and a must-have for classrooms and school libraries where there are readers aged 10+ to get this book into the hands of - and yes, that includes the adults too.
Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll is published on Thursday 4th March by Knights Of, and available to pre-order from all good bookshops. If you’d like to join her for the official launch event with Jen Campbell on 10th March, tickets are available at www.blackwells.co.uk/bookshops/events/.
Many thanks to the publishers for sending us a review copy. Follow along with the other stops on the blog tour for more about the book.
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