“The Seven Imperfect Rules Of Elvira Carr” is one of the best books I’ve read this year and is the best book I’ve read about how neuroatypical people make a place for themselves in the world.
The main joy of this book is that Elvira Carr, Ellie to her friends, is a wonderful person. Not a saint. Not perfect. But someone who is fully engaged with her own life. She’s curious, honest to a fault, wants to help others and is capable of great joy. I fell in love with her immediately.
Elvira knows she isn’t the same as everyone else. Her mother has told her this time and time again as she grew up and there have been “incidents” that reinforce Elvira’s mother’s view that Elvera’s “condition” means she’s not equipped to deal with the world.
Only when her mother is hospitalised does Elvira discover, at the age of twenty-seven, that her “condition” has a name and that she is not alone.
Elvira is neuroatypical. This means she perceives and thinks about things differently than neurotypical people. As she uses the internet to connect to others like herself, Ellie comes to understand that her “condition” is not an illness. She’s perfectly capable, not just of looking after herself but of contributing more widely to her community. She has a job at an animal sanctuary. She helps provide old people at the nursing home with contact with small animals who lift their spirits. She looks after her neighbour’s young granddaughter.
Ellie’s problems are caused by the often incomprehensible and contradictory expectations and behaviour of neurotypicals, some of whom she believes have the power to “send her away”.
To help navigate the strange ways of the neurotypicals and to prevent her freedom to live an independent life being taken away from her, Elvira with the help of her neighbour develops seven rules. She writes the rules on a spreadsheet and then tests them against her experience, ticking boxes when she uses them, adding examples, guidelines and acceptance criteria to make these imperfect rules work better.
By telling the story entirely from Elivira’s point of view, the author has produced something that is neither a saccharine cliché nor a disturbing freakshow. The thing is that Elvira is much nicer than most people you’ll meet. She has no malice. She’s always honest. She gets angry and afraid, especially when she makes mistakes and misreads the neurotypicals, with there attachment to figures of speech and their habit or saying one thing and meaning another. She’s also capable of joy so overwhelming that, when she’s alone and neurotypicals can’t see and send her away, she has to run around the room with her arms out to let it flow through her.
Ellie faces a series of challenges in the book: her mother’s incapacity, a mystery around her dead father and his frequent trips to Japan, conflicts with members of her neighbour’s family, predatory males and lots and lots of NEW things that create stress.
Ellie’s struggles and her limitations are ones we can all empathise with and perhaps share to some degree which means that her triumphs make us happy.
I found myself wondering how neurotypical I was and whether there was really any such thing. Putting the labels aside, I found myself wishing that I could meet Elvira and hoping that I would overcome some of my neurotypical habits for long enough really to see her.
“The Seven Imperfect Rules of Elvira Carr” is beautifully written and perfectly narrated. I strongly recommend listening to the audiobook version. Click on the SoundCloud link below to hear Charlie Sanderson bring Elvira to life.