Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!
Ever since I realized that literature has been something I could see myself in, I’ve been looking high and low for books with SPD representation. For years, all I managed to find were help books for parents SPD children (again—not diminishing their value, I was just looking for something else) and hardly any fiction in sight. By some miracle, I ended up coming across this book recently, and I was elated to find a book that finally reflected my disability! I set my expectations hesitantly high, but I ended up adoring Not If I Can Help It; I wish I had it when I was Willa’s age.
Enjoy this week’s review!
Willa has Sensory Processing Disorder—she hates the texture of certain foods, tags and seams on clothes irritate her to no end, and she gets overwhelmed easily. With her occupational therapist, she’s been able to manage it—and keep it a secret from her 5th-grade class. But when her dad breaks the news that he’s engaged to her best friend’s mom, she struggles to handle the change—she loves her best friend Ruby, but being her sister would be another situation entirely. As 5th grade draws to a close, can she and Ruby work things out—as best friends, and as sisters?
TW/CW: sensory overload, bullying
I’m going to go so far as to say that Not If I Can Help It is a fairly monumental book for me. It’s the first book I’ve ever read with a protagonist who has SPD, and as somebody with SPD, it fills my heart to see myself in a book like this. I’m so, so, so glad this book exists.
I’ve been trying to find any kind of SPD fiction for years, and Not If I Can Help It surprised me with how realistically and respectfully SPD was handled. I related so much to Willa—even though our specific brands of SPD differed (Willa’s seems to be more tactile, whereas mine are mainly auditory), I related so much to Willa’s experience, from her experience with handling change to the everyday things she does with her parents to cope with her SPD. (I JUST GOT MY OWN BODY SOCK TOO??? we love the body sock in this house) I’ve been going back to OT in preparation for college lately, and I also loved the scenes with Willa and her therapist in the sensory gym—again, so respectfully written and authentic! Mackler mentions in the acknowledgments that Not If I Can Help It was partially based off of her experience with one of her sons, who has SPD, and this is bound to be a book that so many of us with SPD will relate to—I certainly did.
It’s been a while since I’ve read any middle grade, but the gap was a lot easier to bridge than I thought it would be. Mackler’s writing, along with our shared experience, made me instantly feel for Willa. She’s such a unique, determined character, so full of life and spirit. I loved her individual quirks, and her growth over the novel made me wish that I had this kind of book when I was her age—I could’ve used a Willa when I was going into middle school. (Also, kudos to Willa for managing her SPD on top of living in MANHATTAN, wow…)
The story was additionally a super sweet one. I completely related to Willa’s reticence to having change, and all of the changes she experiences (her dad getting married to her best friend’s mom, going to middle school, and her longtime babysitter moving, to name a few) served to help her grow so much as a character. All of the supporting characters were wonderfully unique in their own ways, adding not only to the story, but helping to emphasize the point, to paraphrase Ruby’s mom, that we all have our “things” going on—not everybody is as normal as you may think they are, and that there will be all kinds of people to support you along your journey.
All in all, a book that I sorely wished that I’d been able to read when I was younger, but one that I’m so glad I got to read here and now. This is the first book with SPD rep that I’ve read, and given how authentically it was represented, it will always have a special place in my heart. Thanks so much to Carolyn Mackler and Willa. 💗 4.5 stars!
Not If I Can Help It is a standalone, but Carolyn Mackler is also the author of several middle grade and YA books, including Tangled, Infinite In Between, Love and Other Four-Letter Words, and The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big Round Things.
That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!