A young adult adventure set in a near dystopian future where neurodiverse minds are no longer accepted. When Tara Rivers learns that corporation where her parents work plan to implant something to her brain to change the very way she thinks, she has no choice but to run…
Disclosure: I received an ARC of ‘The Place Inside the Storm’ from the author.
With the topic of early biomarkers and pre-natal testing popping up throughout autism research, the topic of the erasure and alteration of neurodiverse minds seems both ideal as a concept within a dystopian future and realistic possibility of something which could actually happen. In ‘The Place Inside The Storm’, the reader follows Tara Rivers and the journey she undertakes after learning that her parents intend to give the go-ahead for an implant to be put in her brain that will change her behaviour and thoughts. That will make her more “pro-social”.
Feeling like she has no other choice, Tara and her robot cat, Xel, make a run for it. With no real direction or plan, a chance encounter leads them to Loki and Aeon. When it becomes clear that Loki has also suffered at the hand of the corporation – and seriously – Tara, Xel and Loki embark on the long journey back to where Tara used to live, seeking help for Loki. Along the way, their destination and plans change, and they become part of something bigger.
The book is easy to read and engage with, with quick paced action scenes interspaced with slower sections or sections with more dialogue. There is a sense of struggle in many scenes, and even though Xel can literally access information from all over the place, they still come up against obstacles and barriers they cannot completely avoid and have to scrap their way out of.
The characters are likeable and interesting, with Xel being a stand-out character as both Tara’s friend and protector. The bond between Tara and Xel and their interactions were done in such a way that their friendship was undeniable, yet you never forgot that Xel was a robot cat – and it worked. The corporation also felt like a character – it’s oppressive presence being felt and referenced throughout the book. I felt that there was scope for a little more conflict or reflection on the actions of the mother of Tara’s old friend, especially as her actions demonstrated the reach of the corporation. That said, I can also appreciate the need for the story to be kept moving, so the fast pace of the actions reflected the internal state of the characters.
Alongside the physical journey that Tara undertakes, there is a co-running emotional journey that Tara makes towards understanding and accepting herself in a world that doesn’t accept people who are too different. The wrap-up of this comes through powerfully at the end of the book, even though there remains a tinge of sadness to it. In many ways, this also feels real because there is no perfect happy ending where everything goes to plan.
Tara doesn’t know what autism is at the beginning of the book, and she certainly has no idea that she is autistic herself. The corporation has been highly successful in reducing – borderline eliminating – neurodiverse minds within society. She does, however, know that she is different from her peers – much like many autistic children do on some level – and struggles to understand where she fits in the world. While in the world created by Wright, Tara doesn’t know what autism is because of the corporation’s design, in many ways the process is similar to the realisation that many autistic teenagers go through when they first realise they’re different.
Without succumbing to stereotypes, Wright creates a realistic representation of an autistic teenager. His descriptions of Tara’s impending meltdowns and her sensory overload come across as genuine and real, and while she Tara does refer to eye contract (or lack of) a few too many times – in that it becomes noticeable – the scenarios in which it is discussed make sense. Later in the book, there is a section where information about autism is provided to Tara in a manner which ends up being a bit too “info-dumping” and stilted and it jars the flow of the book for a few pages.
When other autistic people are introduced later in the book, there are only fleeting moments where different representations of autism are discussed, but this did include a brief scene with a non-speaking autistic person who used AAC.
Tara and Xel are likeable protagonists in this young adult adventure and, a few sections aside, the story flowed well with peaks of action and the periods of reflection and character development and growth. The story was quite straight-forward, and you can kind of see where it’s going to end up from about midway, but the read is enjoyable all the same. In terms of autistic rep, I think Tara is a good addition to the pool of fictional autistic characters, particularly for the young adult range.