Corinne Duyvis was born, raised and currently living in Amsterdam. She’s the author of Otherbound, a young adult fantasy novel that received rave reviews. Her latest book, On the Edge of Gone, is a young adult science fiction novel released this March and is also racking up the accolades. Both are published by Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS. I first “virtually” met Corinne when I interviewed her about Disability in Kidlit, a website she co-founded with author Kody Keplinger which discusses the portrayal of disabled characters in children’s literature. Corinne was diagnosed as autistic in 2004.
Tell us about your book.
On the Edge of Gone is an apocalyptic novel centering on Denise, an autistic sixteen-year-old girl, and her struggle to survive a destructive comet impact—and to make sure her family survives, too. Minutes before the comet impact, they find a generation ship preparing to leave the planet. Denise tries desperately to get a permanent place on board before it departs, but when survival hinges on how useful she can make herself, she’ll need to push herself farther than she ever has.
I tried to make On the Edge of Gone the kind of book that’s accessible to both sci-fi fans and others; I hope the former will be interested by the different spin on the apocalypse, while the latter might appreciate the intense focus on characterization and occasional action.
What inspired you to write it?
A mishmash of things: being autistic myself, I’d always wanted to write an autistic character. I’d also wanted to explore the role (and lack of role, in many cases) of disabled people in (post-)apocalyptic science fiction for ages. These two things went perfectly together.
Although Denise goes through very different things than I have, I’ve definitely drawn a lot from my own experiences in depicting her struggles and daily life details. Autistic people get so very few respectfully written characters to relate to, and it was incredibly important for me to have Denise ring true.
Who’s your illustrator and why was he/she perfect for capturing the spirit of your book?
Shane Rebenschied created the beautiful cover. I fell in love with it from the first moment. It captured the melancholy vibe perfectly, and managed to show so much of the main conflict: a world destroyed, ships fleeing the surface, and a lone girl stuck on the surface.
Who is the ideal reader and how do you see the book being used?
First and foremost, I’m an author: I just want to tell a good story. I try not to think too much about who will read it or how it might be used, because I don’t want to have the book come across as forced or didactic, which can happen when you start pushing the story in a direction that simply doesn’t fit. That said, autistic readers are extremely important to me. As I said above, we get few characters to relate to, and I hope that readers will recognize parts of themselves in her. I also hope that it might help non-autistic readers understand certain elements of autism a little better, and see the different ways it can manifest in different people.
I’ve already seen the book used in lectures, and I’ve also seen readers suggest it be used in high school classes, which is amazing to me. I think I can see what they mean: the book combines a tense apocalyptic thriller with various moral quandaries that would probably be fascinating to discuss in a group setting. There are no right answers, and that can make for the best discussions.
What’s the message you want your readers to take away after reading the book?
Like I said, I’m wary of the book coming across as forced or didactic, which is easy to slip into when you (a) have very strong opinions, like I do, and (b) have a tendency to explain these opinions, at length, repetitively, just to make sure people get it and they didn’t misunderstand and gosh did I express myself right just now maybe I should start from the beginning … ?
So I didn’t write it with a message in mind.
But I did of course talk about various themes and topics I’m particularly interested in, and I do hope people think about those topics. In particular, I hope the book may make readers think about what we—as a society or individually—tell disabled people. Disabled people often get these two messages:
- Disabled people have no value and are a drain on society. I assume most readers here will understand why that is really not a great message to send to people, but it’s sadly common.
- Disabled people can do everything non-disabled people can— “Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise! Look, this man with amputated legs ran a marathon! Look, that autistic thirteen-year-old got into university! Look, this woman can’t use her hands but draws amazing photo-realistic portraits! They never let their disability stop them!”
People who say this have great intentions. And it is incredibly important to affirm disabled kids’ self-worth, encourage their ambitions, and make sure they have the same opportunities as their non-disabled peers. I will always, always support this. But when kids are told that they can excel at everything, they sometimes get the message they should excel at everything; that their value as a disabled person hinges on their success. Several disabled people I know grew up to hear: “You might be disabled, but it’s okay, because people like you climb Mount Everest. You might be disabled, but you don’t let it stop you; not like those other disabled people. You might be disabled, but you get such amazing grades, nobody can tell you that you’re any less than others.”
Eventually, there’s a nagging thought: What if you don’t get good grades one day? What if you’re not always up to feeling brave and inspirational and just want to sulk or scream? Kids should be allowed to fail; they should be allowed to just be themselves. If they don’t have that freedom, they can start feeling like their disability is something they have to make up for by being exceptional in another area. So they work extra hard to prove themselves, work extra hard to “overcome” their disability and show that they’re not like those other disabled people that everyone keeps dismissing … and sometimes they work themselves right into complete burn-out and depression.
Because the fact is, many disabled people do have limitations, and they do face barriers in society. They might not be able to excel all the time. And that’s okay. Disabled kids’ acceptance should not be contingent on their success. They should know they have value nonetheless, and that it’s okay to take a step back sometimes if they need it, or if they simply want to.
Seeing how much Denise struggles with the need to prove herself worthy of survival might make people think about what kinds of messages they could be implicitly sending.
Do you have a proud moment, inspirational story, or moving fan feedback you’d like to share?
I am overjoyed with the critical response the book has gotten—positive reviews in mainstream media (New York Times!), sci-fi media (SFX Magazine!), and industry media (Kirkus, School Library journal, and others) as well as early award buzz—and that is absolutely a huge source of pride. Still, nothing beats having autistic readers message me to say that they saw themselves in a book for the first time ever.
If our readers leave with only one message after reading this interview, what would you like it to be?
This is going to sound corny, but: “We’re out here.” It feels like there’s so much talk and popular media about autism, and a lot of it isn’t actually coming from autistic people. Some of my favorite books about autistic characters have been written by non-autistic people, but when I think about autistic characters written by autistic people, I can only come up with a tiny, tiny handful—and those books don’t typically get as much attention, either. There’s such a wealth of autistic writing out there online, too, whether it’s blogs or short stories or self-published books or essays, and I hope people will gradually become more aware of this.
Discover more about Corinne and get her new book:
- Corinne Duyvis Website
- On the Edge of Gone Info Page and on Goodreads
- On the Edge of Gone on Amazon and Barnes and Noble
Corinne’s headshot by Maija Haavisto