Title: An Unusual Boy
Author: Fiona Higgins
Published: October 20th 2020
Publisher: Boldwood Books
Genres: Fiction, Contemporary
Rating: 4 stars
Meet Jackson – a very unusual boy in a world that prefers ‘normal’… Julia Curtis is a busy mother of three, with a husband often away for work, an ever-present mother-in-law, a career, and a house that needs doing up. Her fourteen-year-old daughter, Milla, has fallen in love for the first time, and her youngest, Ruby, is a nine-year-old fashionista who can out-negotiate anyone.
But Julia’s eleven-year-old son, Jackson, is different. Different to his sisters. Different to his classmates. In fact, Jackson is different from everyone. And bringing up a child who is different isn’t always easy.
Then, one Monday morning, Jackson follows his new friend Digby into the school toilets. What happens inside changes everything; not only for Jackson, but for every member of his family. Julia faces the fight of her life to save her unusual boy from a world set up for ‘normal’.
An extraordinary boy. The mother who loves him. The fight of their lives.
Bestselling novelist Fiona Higgins returns with a heart-stopping, devastating, but ultimately uplifting story about loyalty, love and forgiveness.
‘Over the years, I’ve come to accept that Jackson’s inner life is largely impenetrable to me. It’s a common reality, I’m told, for parents living with ‘neurodiversity’ – a catch-all term used to describe children who don’t conform to convenient diagnostic categories.’
Dedicated to a friend from school, Fiona Higgins draws on this friendship to support her latest novel, An Unusual Boy. Heartfelt, personal and stimulating, An Unusual Boy is a compelling domestic drama, centered on family, parenting, misunderstandings and behaviour constructions. The latest tale from Australian contemporary fiction novelist Fiona Higgins is compelling and heart wrenching.
An Unusual Boy follows an eleven year old child named Jackson, who is different to children of his own age. Jackson has no set diagnosis, but Jackson’s parents know that he is very unusual. As the book progresses we see just how much Jackson struggles to communicate and behave in expected ways. But Jackson has some gifted traits in terms of his memory and intelligence. Many outside of his family struggle to understand Jackson, but his devoted mother Julia does all she can – within her means. However, as a hardworking mother of three, balancing employment with parenting, life proves to be a struggle from Julia. Things take a turn for worst for Jackson and his family when Jackson is blamed for a terrible incident. The fallout from this incident has far reaching implications for Jackson, his mother, their family and the wider community. Jackson will need society to be a lot more compassionate and understanding of the way he views his world, as he faces an uphill battle to free himself from the accusations that have placed on him.
Being a parent is tough. For the lead character of An Unusual Boy, Julia Curtis, life comes with both its challenges and rewards as the parent of three children. While her husband and father of her three children works away, Julia juggles the demands of part time employment and the care of her children. One of her children is a very different child, outside the norms of society, who issues Julia with daily problems to overcome due to his odd behaviour. With a lack of support and an official diagnosis from health professionals, Julia does all she can to support her spirited child. From the onset, I developed a very strong sense of empathy and understanding for Julia. In my professional life I have encountered children like Jackson, a child on the fringes, defying any labels and largely misunderstood by the general public. Fiona Higgins does a very good job of channeling the innermost thoughts, feelings, actions, behaviours and emotions of a child of this inclination. We develop a sense of sympathy for Jackson, along with his mother. The most overwhelming feeling I got from my interactions with Jackson was that the world needed to show a lot more openness, as well as empathy for those who we consider to be different.
Fiona Higgins is able to successfully inhabit the mindset of both a stressed parent and an eleven year old boy. Both voices came across with sincerity and clarity. Likewise, there are some superb members of the support cast that draw out the very best and worst in humanity. From gentle souls such as Jackson’s dance teacher, through to the authorities assigned to the resulting police case that forms the bulk of this novel’s direction, Higgins covers all bases. I was impressed by the characterisation in this novel, I really felt like I reached inside the hearts and minds of each protagonist featured in An Unusual Boy.
Much of the novel is focused on Jackson, the titular character of this tale. We learn of Jackson’s personal joys, remarkable achievements and his struggles, all of which are portrayed extremely well by Fiona Higgins. The plot takes a different turn and it morphs into a domestic drama, with a hint of mystery, following a terrible act involving Jackson. I won’t go into any great detail regarding this situation, but it seemed to flip the narrative in a very intriguing and heartbreaking direction. With moments of misunderstanding, confusion, crossed lines, admissions, blame, defense, support and shocking revelations, An Unusual Boy, will definitely incite some thought provoking reactions, especially around the concepts of ‘normal’ and ‘inclusion.’ An Unusual Boy is a book you will want to discuss with others and if you are part of a book club, it would make a great pick for your next meet.
Told compassionately through the eyes of both a devoted parent and a child on the fringes of society, An Unusual Boy is a well written and considerate tale from Fiona Higgins.
An Unusual Boy by Fiona Higgins was published on 20th October 2020 by Boldwood Books. Details on how to purchase the book can be found here.
To learn more about the author of An Unusual Boy, Fiona Higgins, visit here.
*I wish to thank Boldwood Books for providing me with a free copy of this book for review purposes.
An Unusual Boy is book #116 the 2020 Australian Women Writers Challenge