Kathy Hoopman: Lisa and the Lacemaker
An Asperger Adventure
Jessica Kingsley Publishers 2002
Lisa lives largely in a world of her own, tolerating a select few friends and family members but otherwise extremely sensitive to sensory over-stimulation. But that doesn’t mean she doesn’t have a strong imagination or a rich mental landscapes; and it doesn’t mean she is unable to focus on things that matter to her, or to say things as she sees them. For Lisa, as is immediately made clear, has Asperger’s Syndrome.
One day, in the backyard of her only friend Ben—who also has Asperger’s—she unexpectedly comes across a door obscured by undergrowth. This turns out to be the lost and forgotten servants’ quarters of the Victorian house in which Ben’s family now live. In exploring it she starts to uncover its secrets, leading to family histories involving long lost loves, the ancient art of lacemaking, and the ghost of one of the dwelling’s former residents.
Lisa and the Lacemaker is an engaging short read aimed, I would guess, at pre-teens. The author, based in Australia’s Queensland, has crafted a charming ghost story that is likely to appeal to all bookish youngsters but most especially those with Asberger’s Syndrome. The publishers are best known for their works on autism spectrum, social work and other therapies, for example, with fiction and non-fiction lists covering mental health, counselling and palliative care. As a result, it’s hard to avoid the educational emphasis of this children’s novel, highlighting as it does the kind of emotions, behaviours and mental processes that many on the spectrum (and not just Lisa) may be associated with. As someone on the spectrum, I can vouch for many of the symptoms that Lisa displays as being typical of the condition.
But does that make the entertaining aspect of this fiction poorer? I don’t think so: as a narrative of discovery and of twists and turns it’s for children of all ages and abilities, whether on the spectrum or not. Lisa finds a new friend in a great aunt, an adult who truly understands her; she has a new interest—uncovering the dwelling’s backstory—which she can obsess about; and she comes across and then develops a new skill with a hobby that relies on care and precision, namely lacemaking.
That this interlace, and especially the crucial thread known as the gimp, becomes a metaphor for Lisa to engage more with society is just one, maybe the most important, aspect that adds to the mini-tapestry of the narrative. And one can argue—as Lisa and the Lacemaker itself illustrates—that much fiction includes an implicit moral in its telling, teaching us lessons about life and giving guidance on how to think and behave.