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Author: Josephine Moon
Publisher: Michael Joseph Australia

Author Josephine Moon recently shared her autism identity with the world. In her latest book, The Wonderful Thing About Phoenix Rose, all of her main characters are autistic, and their wide range of behaviours and levels of self-understanding throw light on the spectrum of neurodiversity.

This is a book about vulnerable creatures – animal and human – and the obstacles they face in a neurotypical society. The protagonist, Phoenix Rose, is a schoolteacher who battles to do her job under the scrutiny of an intolerant school principal. Her issues at work are exacerbated when she has to take a menagerie of animals on a long journey from Tasmania to Brisbane, in an attempt to find new homes for them.

Many of her travelling companions are neurodiverse as well, and together they face with bewilderment the neurotypical world of misunderstanding, prejudice – and kindness. Phoenix Rose’s journey is both a rescue mission and one of self-discovery. Along with conquering many of her fears, she finds her strengths: she is a great friend, and her own best advocate.

This book addresses many misconceptions about autism as held by parents of neurodiverse children as well as by the broader public. In a poignant moment, Phoenix Rose says, “People like me are not the exception; we are simply the obvious.”

This engaging, heart-warming book sometimes veers towards the overtly educational. Moon sometimes presents issues affecting women at a level of abstraction: “Women were abused, simply because they were women, and those stats were even higher for autistic women, LGBTQIA+ women and women of colour.”

This is by no means the prevailing style of the book, however. Phoenix Rose offers in-depth, convincing depictions of neurodiversity through the lens of Moon’s characters. Phoenix Rose’s love for all things yellow suffuses the book, and is present also in her descriptions of lemon-infused food. Try Moon’s last book, The Jam Queens, for another journey of revelations for protagonist and readers alike – and irresistible recipes.