Blog tour: Girl Unmasked by Emily Katy

Girl Unmasked

This post is part of a blog tour organised by Random Things Blog Tours. I received a free copy of the book in return for an honest review.

‘To the outside world, Emily looks like a typical girl, with a normal family, living an ordinary life. But inside, Emily does not feel typical, and the older she gets, the more she realises that she is different.

‘As she finally discovers when she is 16, Emily is autistic. Girl Unmasked is the extraordinary story of how she got there – and how she very nearly didn’t.

‘Still only 21, Emily writes with startling candour about the years leading up to her diagnosis. How books and imagination became her refuge as she sought to escape the increasing anxiety and unbearable stresses of school life; how her OCD almost destroyed her; how a system which did not understand autism let her down; and how she came so close to the edge that she and her family thought she would never survive.

‘In this simple but powerful memoir, we see how family and friends became her lifeline and how, post-diagnosis, Emily came to understand her authentic self and begin to turn her life around, eventually becoming a mental health nurse with a desire to help others where she herself had once been failed.

‘Ultimately uplifting, Girl Unmasked is a remarkable insight into what it can be like to be autistic - and shows us that through understanding and embracing difference we can all find ways to thrive.’

Girl Unmasked

I’ve said it before, but it would absolutely not surprise me if I was autistic.

I don’t rate my chances of even being considered for diagnosis, because I’m not causing anyone any problems, but I have come to treat myself as if I am neurodivergent – for example, by no longer castigating myself for not being as “grown-up” or “successful” as many of my peers. Chances are, it’s not my fault, and if I could browbeat myself into becoming more socially adept and less awkward, it would have worked by now.

I always see so many of my own experiences, thought patterns, and behaviours mirrored in late-diagnosed women’s accounts of being autistic, and Girl Unmasked, by Emily Katy, is no exception. In fact, it was her blog post about growing up autistic that originally got me suspecting it in myself – particularly her points about group work and trying to blend in by copying what other children did.

Girl Unmasked chronicles Emily’s journey from a joyful (albeit anxious and alienated) child, to a perfectionistic and troubled teenager, to the young mental health nurse she is now: empowered and compassionate (towards herself as well as others) having finally received the diagnosis that helped her understand herself better.

I was able to picture all the scenes in my head so vividly, partly because Emily writes so beautifully and evocatively, but also because I could relate to so many of them. It was so validating, but also so sad, to read about the experience of someone else who felt different, and was left out and picked on but didn’t understand why.

Emily’s story becomes all the more heart-breaking at secondary school, when years of trying to navigate a world not designed for her needs took their toll and she became visibly anxious, depressed, and obsessive-compulsive, leading to attempts on her own life and a range of experiences with the mental health system, including as an inpatient.

Interestingly, we were both 13 when it all became a bit too much, and I’m about 13 years older than Emily. It was gutting to read that mental healthcare hadn’t improved in all that time: while I was assumed to be “better” once I stopped having quite so many panic attacks and was essentially functioning, many of the adults charged with Emily’s care didn’t seem to listen to what she was actually telling them, or ask the right questions.

Emily writes with a level of maturity, wisdom, and insight I certainly didn’t have in my early twenties, and while some of this may be due to her particular “flavour” of autism, as well as her training as a nurse, some of it may also be down to her having been through so much at such a young age, which she shouldn’t have had to endure.

I really enjoyed her engagement with the literature on autism, especially her rebuttal of the “deficit model” and the notions that autistic people can’t be imaginative or funny. I also loved how we both have the same reaction to the “theatre or museum?” question – it depends what’s on, where it is, and how long we’ll be there!

(All other things being equal, I’d prefer the theatre, because everyone has an allocated seat they tend to stay put in. At a museum, I’m often worried that I’m in someone’s way, or find myself anxiously hovering until people move away from the thing I want to look at.)

As the blurb suggests, Girl Unmasked ends on a hopeful note, with Emily starting her career as a mental health nurse and educating people on the needs of autistic people, so that they are treated better going forward.

But there are many glimmers of positivity throughout the book, as Emily shares the particular joy she derives from her special interests and favourite sensory experiences, talks about the times when people did respond to her kindly and appropriately, and reminisces about good times with her family and friends.

Girl Unmasked is moving, wise, and relateable.

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About Alice Violett

Writer of blogs and short stories, reader of books, player of board games, lover of cats, editor of web content, haver of PhD.

Colchester, UK