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Finding My Voice

Authored by Aofie Dooley
Illustrated by Aofie Dooley
Published by Scholastic

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Growing up feels complicated, especially while you’re doing it. Yet, if you break it down, what we want in life remains pretty simple from ages one to 100: we want to feel safe to be ourselves, pursue fulfilling passions, and have a stable sense of belonging.

What strikes me about Finding My Voice is how it bucks the trend of older-MG and YA fiction that depicts adolescence as an unnavigable labyrinth of high drama. Instead, Aoife Dooley’s follow-up to 2022’s Frankie’s World opts for simplicity and perspective. The magic lies in how it achieves this without feeling superficial; it’s simply relatable.

‘Simplicity’ is definitely the word to keep in mind while reading this graphic novel. It follows Frankie as she starts secondary school, excited but also worried about if, how, and when to tell people she is autistic. These worries are exacerbated when her primary school bully turns up, threatening to take the decision out of her hands and tell everyone herself. Bolstered by friends old and new, tensions finally come to a head for Frankie at a Battle of the Bands competition. Dooley, although diagnosed as an adult, draws on her own experiences as an autistic person to give this ‘own voices’ text its authenticity.

The simplicity starts with the artwork. The series’ signature cartoonish two-tone immediately creates a world that feels soft and safe, quite literally devoid of sharp edges. This is mirrored in the narrative, which is intentionally and knowingly straightforward. One moment that sums this up well is when a character, before the climactic final sequence, asks the group if they should go over the plan again, only to decide to forgo this in favour of a group hug. Throughout the story, good vibes take precedence over details. This is not a criticism; it is what makes the book feel so warm and safe. This is bolstered by the fact that the consequences never seem overwhelming. Even when Frankie is scared her autism will be disclosed to the school without her permission, she never spirals. She simply says how bad it would make her feel, but otherwise stays calm, collected, and moving forward.

Another theme that comes through strongly is perception. This explores how our perceptions are subjective and may differ from those of others, how our perceptions of the world may not align with reality, and how we try to create and curate the perceptions others hold about us. This discordance between who you are to yourself and who you are to other people is interesting. The book doesn’t just opt for the simple message that being true to who you are means being entirely open about all aspects of your personality. Finding My Voice is about being able to speak when you want to, but also being able to choose to stop talking when you want to. The book makes it clear that it is perfectly acceptable to keep some aspects of your personality private, as long as you feel confident and safe to disclose them as and when you want. This is played out most importantly in the narrative around the disclosure of Frankie’s autism. It also comes through in the reveal and resolution around the bully, Nadine. Nadine’s perception of Frankie and of herself (and her feeling that she can’t express these views to anyone) is what drives her bullying. It is only by shaking these perceptions that Nadine finds an avenue towards redemption and change.

The final message is the importance of staying true to yourself. This doesn’t always seem easy – right from the start, flibbertigibbet Frankie doesn’t know how to get used to a school that demands silence. Yet, no matter how tough it is, if you can trust yourself and those around you, as Frankie finds out, any obstacle can be overcome.

Even though Finding My Voice is a sequel, it works as a standalone text, and it is one I would recommend for upper Key Stage 2 and lower Key Stage 3. It is a quick and ‘easy’ read – perfect for fans of Raina Telgemeier – but still rich in themes to explore. It offers positive neurodiverse characters without neurodiversity being the story. It is also a book that promotes empathy – it is one of this year’s Empathy Lab picks – without being heavy or preachy.

Finding My Voice is a funny, heart-warming, and insightful read that balances simplicity with depth, making it an essential addition to any young reader’s bookshelf.

Selected for the Empathy Lab 2024 Collection

Longlisted for the Spark Book Awards 2024 Graphic Novels Category