Monday, September 6, 2021

REVIEW: Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger's, Adulting and Living a Life in Full Color (graphic novel) story by Julie Dachez, adaptation, illustration, and colors by Mademoiselle Caroline, inspired by and in collaboration with Fabienne Vaslet

Invisible Differences: A Story of Asperger's, Adulting, and Living a Life in Full Color is, from what I can determine, an at least semi-autobiographical graphic novel. The main character is named Marguerite, but I'm fairly certain her experiences are based on Julie Dachez's own experiences with being diagnosed with Asperger's.

The story takes place somewhere in France. Marguerite is 27, has an office job she doesn't enjoy, and a routine she rarely deviates from. Her happiest time is when she's at home with her cats and little dog. Unfortunately, at work she's considered rude for not making smalltalk with people or going out to lunch with her coworkers. The open office plan makes it impossible for her to concentrate, and Marguerite's preference for loose and comfortable clothing is viewed as unprofessional. Her personal life isn't necessarily peaceful either - her boyfriend Florian wants her to go out with him more, but social situations exhaust her.

Eventually Marguerite is diagnosed with Asperger's and finds it liberating. It reassures her that there's nothing wrong with her - she's just different.

This was okay. I liked the artwork, which made good use of color. The palette was limited at first - mostly black, white, and grey, with one or two splashes of color. After Marguerite got her diagnosis and began making changes so that she could be more comfortable and happy, the number of colors on each page gradually increased.

Most of the volume was devoted to showing Marguerite's daily life and the various ways in which she didn't fit in. She had trouble reading social cues and tended to take things literally, so she came across as weird to her coworkers. Her boyfriend Florian didn't seem particularly great, and I found myself wondering why he stayed with her since all he ever seemed to do was complain about her.

Marguerite read about Asperger's and recognized herself, but actually getting diagnosed took a while. The first psychologist she visited brushed off her comments about Asperger's and wasn't particularly helpful. The second person she visited connected her with the Center for Autism Resources, but then she had to wait months before being tested, and the test was very long and involved.

Although her diagnosis technically didn't change anything, it left Marguerite feeling more like she could accept herself. Instead of trying to constantly force herself to fit in, she began seeking a life that fit her better. This also involved making new friends - my favorite moment was when she got to know the lady at the bakery a bit better and learned that she has OCD.

The volume ends with several informational pages about autism (including a footnote that in 2013 the DSM-5 consolidated Asperger's into "Autism Spectrum Disorder"), the French perception of it, some possible characteristics of people with Asperger's, accommodations that can help autistic adults be successful at work, a bibliography, etc. 

From my understanding, the blue puzzle piece imagery doesn't have good connotations for autistic adults in the US, so I'll warn that this graphic novel does make use of it on one page. Also, one of the informational pages at the end mentions Hans Asperger as being the first to describe Asperger's, but doesn't mention his Nazi involvement at all. This graphic novel was originally published in French in 2016, and it looks like research about Hans Asperger's Nazi involvement was first published in 2018, so that makes sense, but it's still worth mentioning.

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