Review: An Unusual Boy by Fiona Higgins

Title: An Unusual Boy

Author: Fiona Higgins

Published: 20th October 2020, Boldwood Books

Status: Read October 2020 courtesy Boldwood Books/Netgalley


My Thoughts:

‘Everyone’s unusual. Just you remember that. No one’s bloody normal.’

Unfolding from the alternate perspectives of music therapist, Julia Curtis, and her son, eleven-year-old Jackson, An Unusual Boy by Fiona Higgins is an emotive family drama about an atypical child and his typical family.

Both a source of joy and frustration for his parents and siblings, 9-year-old Ruby and 14-year-old Milla, Jackson is smart, honest, and sweet but also has several behavioural tics, and difficulties with the nuances of communication, which mark him as neurodiverse. Having recently relocated from the inner city to a coastal suburb, Julia is delighted when Jackson is invited to a schoolmate’s home, but the friendship is short lived when the boys are accused of a reprehensible act. With her workaholic husband largely absent, a shell-shocked Julia struggles to deal with the fall-out from the incident, and advocate for her unusual boy.

Higgins portrayal of her characters is authentic and sensitive. It’s easy to sympathise with Julia, a harried mother juggling the challenges of caring for her three children while working part time with little support from anyone, including her often absent husband. Carrying the ‘emotional load’ of a family is exhausting at the best of times, but is even more so when your child has additional needs, and Julia’s struggles and mistakes feel realistic as she tries to do the best she can.

Jackson’s unusual thought processes and behaviour are communicated well. He is both literal and linear in his thinking, and has obsessive-compulsive traits. Often overwhelmed by his thoughts and the workings of his prodigious memory, his behaviours are sometimes bizarre, and relating to others is a daily challenge. Jackson is an appealing character who evokes empathy in the reader, but in reality would likely frustrate and annoy adults who lack such insight, as shown by the impatience of his teacher, and the reactions to his headstands in a cafe. While society in general is more accepting of diversity these days, issues remain, particularly when those differences are not physically evident, and labels fail to neatly summarise a condition.

The incident (TW: sexual assault) which sparks a crisis for the Curtis family is dealt with sensitively by Higgins. The fall out highlights the common failings of adults when dealing with a neurodiverse child. It’s also a reminder that compassion, not judgement, should be our default when dealing with children, there is more than one victim here.

The only thing I thought was out of place in the novel was the use of currently nonexistent VR technology used to underscore the vulnerability of children online. There are possibilities aplenty for the exploitation of children via the internet without the need for a ‘sci-fi’ element, and unsupervised access is not the only condition for risk.

Beautifully written with grace and humour, An Unusual Boy is a thought-provoking, tender and moving novel that explores diversity, family, and humanity.


Available from Boldwood Books

In Australia from Booktopia or your preferred bookstore

Or your preferred retailer via Booko I Book Depository I HiveUK I Indiebound

Also by Fiona Higgins reviewed at Book’d Out

8 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Theresa Smith Writes
    Oct 27, 2020 @ 21:39:56

    Terrific review Shelleyrae. Thanks.

    Liked by 1 person


  2. Jennifer
    Oct 28, 2020 @ 11:30:09

    I agree, Shelleyrae. A thought-provoking read.

    Liked by 1 person


  3. 1girl2manybooks
    Oct 30, 2020 @ 14:41:19

    I’m quite keen to read this one



  4. Trackback: It’s Monday! What Are You Reading? | book'd out
  5. Carla
    Nov 16, 2020 @ 23:46:19

    Fantastic review Shelleyrae. I am definitely adding this one to my TBR.

    Liked by 1 person


  6. JoAnn
    May 30, 2021 @ 08:26:51

    I am only about 25 pages in and its not holding my interest. I may just put it down.



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