This book is described as a moving own-voices story that shines a light on how one girl’s learning differences are neither right nor wrong…just perfectly individual. No one can figure out what Gwendolyn Rogers’ problem is – not her mom, her teachers, or any of the many therapists she’s seen. But Gwendolyn knows she doesn’t have just one thing wrong with her: she has fifty-four.
Gwendolyn sees a confidential school report that lists areas of weakness. She knows that she has trouble. Now she has proof. She then develops a list of fifty-four things she needs to get under control. Because she wants to go to horse camp this summer. She must behave. And so begins the story. Gwen is an 11-year-old with what she thinks is only one friend and a half-brother who her mother doesn’t acknowledge and a brain that cracks.
Gwen tries her best to cope at home and in school surrounded by others who do not understand her. Her list of 54 things reads like a solid list of symptoms, characteristics or challenges that individuals with FASD face. Eventually, Gwen’s mother takes her to a doctor who diagnoses her with ADHD – like her brother Tyler. Gwen is excited to start medication as she thinks she will be able to cope like her brother who takes a blue pill. Even though at first things seem to be better, it doesn’t stay that way and her brain still ‘cracks’.
I don’t want to give too much away but I highly recommend this book. I don’t know if Gwen has FASD, as it is never mentioned in the book. But I highly suspect so. Her parents used to drink alcohol. It is mentioned that mom did not drink during pregnancy, but when her father refuses to quit drinking with her after she discovers her pregnancy he leaves. Her mom goes to AA. When Gwen can’t seem to get control over her 54 things, she decides to use her own version of AA’s 12 Steps to try to solve her problems. She admits she is powerless over Anger.
The book at times is difficult to read, due to the treatment by the adults around her and Gwen’s thoughts about herself. It resonated so much with my own daughter’s journey. But there is a light at the end when a professional helps Gwen, her mom and advocates with the other adults and professionals to see Gwen as a child that can fly, if given understanding and supports.
This would be a great book for anyone to read – those with FASD, parents, caregivers, siblings, teachers or others who interact with kids. Caela Carter, the author discloses she was diagnosed as an adult with ADHD and dyslexia. As a kid, she was called a “conundrum”. She says: There are a lot of kids who aren’t getting the help they deserve. Who are refused help because it seems too hard … or because they seem too unpleasant … or because we look at them and mistake the things they can’t do as things they won’t do. There are still a lot of kids who face more blame then help.”
I decided to read this book when I saw it mentioned by an adult with FASD who read it and said it sounded just like her, so I was curious. Then I read the description and was even more curious. Now I’ve read it, I am still curious why Fetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder was not even mentioned because it sure seems it could be FASD. But irregardless the book is a testament to neurodiversity. For that reason, it deserves to be read in every classroom and by every adult who thinks a child is a “conundrum” or by anyone who doesn’t think they fit.
I don’t think my daughter ever created a list of 54 things wrong with her, but I know she sometimes has trouble identifying what she is good at, because she has faced so much adversity. Earlier this month, before I heard about or read the book, I created a list for the maiden of 24 things I love about her. It was for her birthday. She turned 24. I always want her to know there are so many great things about her. I usually put together a few pictures which highlight the past year, but this time I picked 24 pictures from the last year that illustrated a strength, positive trait or something I loved about her.
One of the gifts she bought me for my birthday last week was this journal. We have been spending a few moments filling it in every morning during our “coffee break.” Even though it’s for a younger child, we are adapting it. It is a great way for us to connect. I hope that one day, like Gwendolyn, she gets curious, discovers her confidence and creates a list of positive things she LOVES about herself.