REVIEW: “An Unexpected Boon” by S.B. Divya

Review of S.B. Divya, “An Unexpected Boon”, Apex Magazine 102: Read Online. Reviewed by Joanna Z. Weston.

Wow. I loved this story. It has a wonderfully realized non-western setting (this one takes place in Vedic era India), two well-rounded main characters whose points of view complement and add to each other, and a nuanced, sympathetic take on mental illness.

The story has two point-of-view characters, First is Kalyani, a twelve year old girl who struggles with compulsions and has trouble reading people. I read her autistic, due to her frequent over-stimulation, dislike of being touched, and difficulty reading other peoples intentions and emotions, but I could be wrong. Next is her older brother, Aruni, who loves her but is also frustrated by her inability to fit in. I appreciated how warmly Kalyani was portrayed — autistic characters are often portrayed as cold or alien, but she came across as very sympathetic. She is engaged with the world, yet seems distant to others because her engagement does not quite mirror their own. Her relationship with her brother felt very real to me. He defends her against others and worries about her ability to survive in the world, but also resents her to a certain extent. By the end, they come to understand each other in a new way.

The boon referred to in the title offers Kalyani a way to engage with the world more easily, but does not change who she is, because she isn’t broken. When her brother says that he hoped the boon would make her normal, she replies “I will always be myself,” which is a touching message for all of us, but has particular resonance if we assume she is autistic.

This is a beautiful, engaging story that I highly recommend. Being neurotypical, I can not speak to the accuracy of the representation, but I thought it was deftly handled.

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