Thursday, July 31, 2014

"Stim" by Kevin Berry

by Kevin Berry

Stim is the first in Kevin Berry's series about Aspies, or people with Asperger's Syndrome. You can get it for only $0.99! Also available: Kaleidoscope (read my blog post).

This review opportunity is brought to you by Xpresso Book Tours.

Robert is different. He has Asperger's Syndrome. He experiences the world differently to 99% of the population. Follow his entertaining and highly empathetic story as he struggles to realise and accept who he really is, try to understand other people - which he cannot - and find a girlfriend. Especially find a girlfriend - he's decided it's his special project for the year. Accompanied on this transformative journey by his quirky flatmates, Chloe (who also has Asperger's, amongst other things), Stef (who hasn't, but doesn't mind) and their oddly-named kitten, Robert endures a myriad of awkward moments in his quest to meet a nice, normal girl ... and not even a major earthquake will stop him.
This absorbing and humorous story is starkly told from Robert's point of view, through the kaleidoscope of autistic experience.

Meeting Chloe in the café became comfortingly familiar and as regular as clockwork. On Mondays, Tuesdays (twice), Thursdays and Fridays, we convened in the café - nearly always at the same corner table, whenever we could occupy it, and with the same drinks - like déjà vu stuck in some kind of unstoppable time loop. On a few occasions, the time passed without either of us saying anything, but somehow comforted by the other’s presence. Sometimes we talked about our studies or assignments, but mostly we talked about ourselves. Or more accurately, I should say Chloe talked about herself. She had been entirely truthful about the verbal diarrhoea. Words spilled out of her mouth with a rapid staccato, machine-gun-like rhythm.
But I did not mind this. When I was in the café by myself, I could only observe people interacting socially, try to work out what was going on in their minds and what it was they were doing, to try to unravel the mystery of their behaviour. I never actually knew what was going on with them, could never properly interpret what I observed, because I could only imagine. Invariably, people behaved inconsistently and did not do what I expected or wanted them to do, and I could not discern any patterns underlying their actions. This was confusing, sometimes bewildering.
With Chloe, it was all very easy. She just poured herself out to me, wholly and honestly and clearly, and I lapped it all up like a thirsty kitten drinking cream from the saucer of knowledge. For the first time, I had a friend I could understand, and who could understand me, because we seemed to communicate on the same wavelength. I think she felt the same, but she never said exactly.
Chloe told me all about herself, how she had been first diagnosed when young, and passed from doctor to doctor and psychiatrist to psychiatrist, collecting the acronyms of different diagnoses like alphabet soup until finally she was evaluated with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). Once she knew that, she sped-read numerous books on the subject, assimilating their collective wisdom. The very best, she told me, were those written by fellow Aspies who had struggled to fit into the NS world but ultimately prevailed to establish their own place within it somehow, and yet remain true to themselves. Chloe said she could identify with their early lives, and that everything in her own life, past and present, made sense to her after reading those books. She had always known she was different, and now she understood why. And I agreed with her. I borrowed the books and read them too. I felt the same.
Chloe explained that her father travelled a lot on business and tried to make up for his frequent absences by ensuring that she always had the best care possible. Evaluations. Psych tests. Personality tests. Private mental hospital whenever she felt especially distressed. A seemingly interminable tweaking of her medications (eleven different combinations so far) in an attempt to find the right mix and dosage, a kind of educated guessing on the part of her doctors. There is so little known about the human mind in general and the Aspie mind in particular. It is so complex that all the doctors can do is just try one thing at a time, pick up the pieces if it does not work out as planned, and try something else, trying to solve the incomplete jigsaw of a fractured human mind.
One day when she met me in the café, my life changed forever.

Praise for this Book
"I think this book would be enjoyed by anyone who likes literary or contemporary fiction and it really should be read by anyone who knows or works with autistic people in any way. The first person point of view really gets you inside Robert's head. Well done, Mr Berry. Stim undoubtedly deserves 5 stars." ~ Tahlia Newland for Awesome Indies
"Very often stories about someone with Asperger Syndrome are written by an NS (non spectrum) observer. No matter how warmly they intend, there is always the coolness of distance, of outsider viewpoint. Not so with Stim. Written by an Aspie, for Aspies, about Aspies, Kevin speaks our language and has the same trials, mishaps and dreams. He observes everything around him and discourses upon it with legendary AS wit, which seems to be the product of literal thinking, social confusion and an innocent, analytical mind. I loved it." ~ Rudy Simone, author of Aspergirls, Asperger’s on the Job, the 22 Things Aspergers books, and Orsath
"A rare insight into the mind of an Aspie, Robert's story is frustrating, shaming, poignant, and ultimately triumphant. Stim is a must-read for everyone." ~ Lee Murray, author of A Dash of Reality, Battle of the Birds, and Misplaced
"Stim is an honest and emotional portrayal of a young man with Asperger’s and living in Christchurch during the beginning of the devastating earthquakes that have rocked the city. It is also incredibly educational without ever feeling forced. A must-read!" ~ Readerly Musings

Some of My Favorite Lines
"We are the square pegs that do not neatly fit into the round holes of life without taking a battering."
"I felt like I was always swimming against the tide or walking into a raging gale. This, I suppose, was the start of the slippery slope descending into the abyss of depression."
"I love it that a book can be relied upon to provide the identical information, or tell the same tale, time after time - unlike people, who can be fickle. Rereading something I already know is grounding for me, and it is pleasing to know that information in a book is always the same each time I look at it."
"I looked eagerly at the empty bookcase, already mentally arranging my books in order by category and (within that) alphabetically by author. I felt a surge of excitement as I anticipated removing them from the cardboard prisons of their boxes, feeling the smooth dust covers in my hands, and placing their regular rectangular shapes neatly onto the white shelves in front of me in a perfectly ordered, systematic manner."
While listening to Robert talking about economics: "Stef's eyes had glazed over a little, I assume with the intense concentration she had on what I was saying."
On stimming: "I lay on the other sofa, twitching my right foot against a cushion every few seconds. I like to do that. The gentle tap of foot on fabric is predictable and self-soothing."
"Finding a girlfriend is my personal project for the year."
"Why do our noses run and our feet smell?"
"Why [...] do you want to be normal, Robert? [...] Well, okay, sometimes you have to put on the happy face and spout the appropriate social responses at the correct time, but you also have to let the real you come out the rest of the time, or else you've lost yourself. You've got to know where your strengths and weakness are."
"We read through nearly everything we picked up, except the dictionary (I gave up on it because it kept changing the subject) and the telephone book (too many characters to follow)."

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Robert and his flatmate Chloe are both Aspies. They have Asperger's Syndrome, a mild form of Autism. As Robert tells us, "It is difficult for me to know what are emotions and what are not." Most Aspies have an obsession, and Robert's is reading and talking about economics, never mind that he bores everyone silly! He has also made it his mission to find himself a girlfriend this year. After moving into a flat with Chloe and her cousin Stef, Robert experiences the trials and tribulations of having a kitten called Sex, he discovers the joys of Facebook for Aspies, and he gets into trouble when he adjusts the dosage of his antidepressants. His frank and honest comments to others result in some hilarious encounters, while his inability to read people's emotions keeps him from seeing what is right under his nose. It takes a big disaster to bring Robert and Chloe closer together and for Robert to finally find himself.
Robert's personality shines through in both his narration and his diary entries. His lack of use of contractions, while usually annoying, serves perfectly to convey his odd speech patterns. The book is charming and humorous, and it gives us a great insight into the world of an Aspie, as the author is one himself. Stim is full of laugh-out-loud moments. I loved Robert's Girlfriend Equation, his lists of things he's been wondering about, and his definition of NS (Non-Spectrum or "normal") as a disorder.
A true gem of a book.

From the Author
I've been writing off and on approximately forever. I'm middle-aged in a chronological sense, but young at heart. I've got a degree which I've never used and two diplomas, one in Hypnotherapy and the other in a subject I don't mention to anyone, as it was so long ago. I read widely, particularly spec-fic and YA, but also contemporary and some nonfiction. My favourite author is Connie Willis, but I mostly read indie authors nowadays. My other interests include editing, hanging out with other writers, walking, playing backgammon, dancing Ceroc and spending time with my two boys. I also enjoy copy-editing and proofreading other authors' manuscripts.
My unique niche is writing Aspie new adult contemporary novels set in an earthquake zone (Christchurch, New Zealand): Stim and Kaleidoscope. I've also co-authored three humorous fantasy books with Diane Berry [as K. D. Berry]: Dragons Away! (on the strength of which we won the Sir Julius Vogel Award 2012 for Best New Talent), Growing Disenchantments, and Fountain of Forever.