Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll

Published by Knights Of, 2021.

Show Us Who You Are blew me away. It’s an incredible book – powerful and full of compassion.

The story is set in the near-future and centres around the work of the Pomegranate Institute. They’re an AI company and they make holograms (Grams) of people. They interview their subjects extensively so that the Grams are more than just physical clones; Pomegranate are also making digital copies of minds and souls – they capture the very essence of people. These Grams are then stored on file and – for a fee – can be brought to life again by grieving relatives, should the original person die.

Show Us Who You Are has a phenomenal protagonist in 12-year-old Cora. Oh, to have an ounce of the self-assuredness and self-acceptance she has by the end of the book! Cora is feisty and principled. She loves music and facts and wants to be an investigative journalist. She is autistic. Her older brother works at Pomegranate and it’s through him that she ends up meeting the CEO’s 13-year-old son, Adrien.

They are soon firm friends and, my goodness, what a beautiful, life-affirming friendship it is! I think it’s up there in my top three fictional friendships of all time. Cora and Adrien are so in step with each other. Theirs is a heady friendship of fun and laughter and complete acceptance. Adrien is Neurodivergent too; he has ADHD. When Cora burns out after their day together at the British Museum, Adrien recognises what is happening and knows exactly how to respond. He is patient and calming and his response is perfect and it makes for one of my favourite scenes in the book.

He catches my fingers. Not my hand, just the fingers. Like he knows the feeling of having my hand grasped would be too much right now. He squeezes them so lightly.
“You’re my best friend, Cora.”
It quiets the strange anger in me. And feels like a release.

Show Us Who You Are, pages 107-108.

For much of the book, Cora doesn’t feel seen or understood by most ofthe people around her. There is a parallel between Cora’s need to be heard and understood and the need for Neurodivergent voices to be heard and represented in society. Show Us Who You Are is hugely important in building empathy and understanding around Neurodiversity. It challenges assumptions and preconceptions. I have found it incredibly informative. One of the most striking aspects of this is how the book celebrates Neurodiversity. Previously, I had tended to focus on the difficulties associated with autism and ADHD. Here Elle McNicoll, who is Neurodivergent herself, shows us just how remarkable and brilliant her two main protagonists are. For example, Adrien is capable of talking and acting as if he “has a hundred tabs open in his brain” and equally he is also able to give unrivalled undivided attention if something is really important. Cora has heightened senses – she describes to Adrien how some parts of London are like sensory feasts: smelling all the bread in Borough Market long before she can see it.

There are another couple of characters who I want to mention too. I really loved Adrien’s mom, Ria Hawkins. She is mis-judged and underestimated but boy does she come into her own! Elle McNicoll has also written the perfect villain; someone so calculating and sinister.

Another of the book’s important themes is grief and loss. It’s poignantly explored in relation to Cora whose mom died a year before the book begins, and is obviously at the core of the aims of Pomegranate who seek to alleviate grief by providing digital immortality.

Show Us Who You Are is an empowering story. Cora’s journey is such a positive one – from the start of the book where she keeps parts of herself hidden and masks her true self because she’s worried people will find her strange, to the release and freedom of self-acceptance at the end when she no longer cares what people think, and recognises that there’s a place for everyone in this world and that no one else can decide your worth.

Ultimately Show Us Who You Are is a joyful, uplifting book. So many of the final scenes made me want to punch the air and whoop with happiness. I’m recommending it to everyone.

Rating: 💙💙💙💙💙

Suitable for children aged 8+

Thank you to Knights Of for sending me this book to review.

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