As soon as I heard about the publication of Strong Female Character, it immediately became one of my most anticipated books for this year. In part because I am a fan of Fern Brady’s comedy, but also, as a thirty-something woman who has always felt like a bit of a misfit, I was particularly interested to read more about Fern’s experiences as a woman diagnosed with autism in adulthood.
I have previously wondered, given some of my personality traits, if I am autistic. My parents, too, have also admitted that they had their suspicions. I am most certainly socially awkward, finding certain situations – particularly when I am around big groups of people – hard to navigate, and been accused of being a bit cold, or stand-offish, as a result. Sometimes I go along with something to try and ‘fit in’, ignoring my own needs in the process. It’s not something I really talk openly about. Partly because I am very conscious about not wanting to diagnose myself, I recognise it’s a complex issue that can affect people in different ways, and ultimately, as no-ones lived experience is the same, I didn’t want to say I had something when there is a lot about it, and other people’s journeys, I wouldn’t know. And, as Fern explores throughout this book, the journey to diagnosis is not a simple one. Diagnosed decades after first alerting her doctor that she had it, autism is a condition that is often misdiagnosed and misunderstood, and Fern recounts moments throughout her life in which she was subjected to just that, with symptoms dismissed as being related to other conditions, and the action taken to be ineffective, and further isolating. There are also of course misconceptions around what autism ‘looks like’ which can lead to people’s concerns being dismissed altogether, if they don’t fit into this preconceived image.
Fern is a wonderful writer, and the stories she recounts from her life are told with a rawness and honesty. They are also fascinating and insightful, and of course, very funny. There are some particularly difficult experiences and moments which are explored throughout the book. Some of which, from her teen years, are even more heartbreaking when looked back on through the lens of the autism diagnosis, where we see the vulnerability of a young person who has been misunderstood, and the power imbalance that can ensue when one has difficulty navigating certain social situations. This I found to be particularly thought provoking and led me to reflect on some personal experiences of my own, and how I may recognise these signs should such a situation arise again. I went into the reading of this book with an idea of what autism was, but I left it with a far deeper understanding than I did before, about the different ways in which it can affect an individual, and the emotional and physical actions that present themselves, in all their complexity.
Whilst there are some difficult topics explored throughout the book it never felt like too heavy a read, such is the way it has been written with plenty of humour along the way as these unique stories and memories are vividly brought to life. I also took away from it a feeling of hope, that with the right care and understanding, autism is something that can be lived with, that should’nt hold you back. There are also other themes explored with relation to sexuality and having agency over our bodies which I found insightful and Fern’s stories of her time working as a stripper were both hilarious and informative and it was interesting to see this line of work through a different perspective.
I had high hopes for this book, and I was not disappointed. If you are affected by autism, this book will help you feel understood, and listened to, in a world where it’s not always easy to get your voice heard. And for everyone else it is a very entertaining book which explores some important themes, and which might just change the way you look at people. As the socially awkward woman who stands on the sidelines at parties twisting a hairband around her wrist whilst looking a bit sad (that last bits just my normal face, sorry) I hope that lots of readers pick up and love this book as much as I did, and maybe even see others through a new light.
5 thoughts on “Strong Female Character by Fern Brady ”
This is one of the most personal and heartfelt reviews you have ever posted.
You are a truly Strong female character but then I /we have always known you are.
You can be proud of yourself and all you have achieved a great review.
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Thank you for sharing such a personal (and brilliant) review. I very much enjoyed reading Strong Female Character – I felt it struck such a great balance of being both entertaining and informative.
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Thank you, I’m glad you enjoyed it too!
Thanks so much for this recommendation. I am shocked that there is a book out there that appears to describe my life. I always displayed many signs of being neurodivergent, but my mom told me I wouldn’t be able to get a job if I got diagnosed, so I am still not to this day. This book sounds like something that would really speak to me.
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Aww, I hope that if you do get this book that you find it helpful! It is difficult to get diagnosed but I think things like this book can help at least to know you aren’t alone, and being neurodivergent shouldn’t stop you from being what you want to be!