At home, Alex’s best friend is Kevin the cockapoo. Although, what he wants most of all is a friend at school. But that’s harder than he’s ever expected…
Everything is changing for eleven-year-old Alex and, as an autistic person, change can be terrifying. With the first day of high school only a couple of months away, Alex is sure that having a friend by his side will help. So, he devises a plan – a three-step, foolproof, friend-making plan. He’ll impress the kids at school by winning a trophy at the PAWS Dog Show with his trusty sidekick, Kevin.
Alex thinks this should be a walk in the park, and nothing can go wrong – until it does. Making friends is tougher than he expects, and it looks as if his last chance to succeed rests on the furry shoulders of Kevin.
Paws uses the first-person narration of Alex to demonstrate how autistic brains don’t always come with the templates of human interaction and emotion that neurotypical people usually have. Alex’s characterisation shows how many autistic people have to build these from scratch, learning through mirroring and masking. Because of this, he often encounters hard emotional lessons and confusing rejection.
I appreciated Kate Foster’s incorporation of gaming to kickstart Alex’s voice. It demonstrates how Alex has studied the characters and situations in his games to not only mirror human interaction, but to also use it as common ground to make friends. It was heartfelt and endearing, and let me see the world from Alex’s perspective from the very first page.
Foster is an author who writes children’s books about friends, family, and dogs. Paws hits close to home for Foster, who bases the story on a real-life experience. After adopting a spoodle called Claude, he made an immediate bond with her youngest autistic son. He seemed to sense that her son needed someone to help him always feel safe and calm. Claude knew when her son was sad or stressed or anxious and would become a barrier, sitting close by, even standing over him, and comforting him.
Heart-warming and beautifully written, Paws belongs on everyone’s bookcase. I recommend it for readers aged 9 and above. It’s a touching story about learning that friendship isn’t one size fits all, and is often found where you least expect it – something we can all relate to. I was completely captivated.