book review, horror, Middle Grade

The Power Within by Jacquelyn Nelson

12 year old Daphne is autistic. She loves dancing and Doctor Who, her dog, Ella, and her older brother, Nathan.

However, when zombies arrive, Daphne, her family and friends all take to the roads to escape the dangers of the undead, psychos and the military. Soon Daphne is exposed to things that no child should have to experience.

I wanted to like this book so much. The author based Daphne on her real life autistic daughter (and Nathan on her son), and I love that the book has an autistic protagonist. I also love zombies, so this book seemed like a clear winner when I picked it up.

Unfortunately, it annoyed me that Daphne was a bit player in her own book. Sometimes she was written well, and I loved the scenes where she described how she coped with the difficulties of the world. Most of the time, however, she is relating what the adults are saying or doing, running around stimming, or playing with her friends.

Writing that she ran around stimming tells me nothing. What are her actions? Why is she doing this? What triggered this behavior? How is she feeling? Likewise, saying she played with her friends gives me no information. We never see her interacting with her friends, what they played, how they spoke. You know, the interesting stuff.

Now, Daphne has powers. When she flaps her hands and screams she can knock zombies over. They aren’t very useful powers and apart from helping at the beginning of the book, the adults have destroyed most of the zombies before she does anything. There is no attempt to describe or explain these ‘awesome autistic’ powers, and all the adults call them bizarre.

This brings me to my other problem with this book. It’s tone. It’s marketed as middle grade, yet it is a standard zombie story where lots of people get killed, covered in blood, kill other people, meet an insane military force, etc. Now, I think that lip gloss in the eye of a zombie and a knife in the head (of a living person) might work in middle grade fiction if (and this is a big if) the majority of the story focuses on the 12 year protagonist and her 12 year old friends, what they get up to, discover, and how they cope.

This book is not like that, however. It’s all about the adults, and there isn’t enough depth to how Daphne copes with her world turned upside down to make the book interesting for an adult audience.

Are zombies appropriate in a middle grade book? Of course. Can dark themes be covered in middle grade? Of course. Did this book balance gore, murder, abduction, the end of the world, and corrupt military with how 12 year olds experience, behave and, hopefully, cope with these experiences? No, not to my satisfaction.

I award The Power Within

The Power Within is available for $3.18 ebook and $12.99 print book on Amazon.

7 thoughts on “The Power Within by Jacquelyn Nelson”

    1. I’m probably being too harsh on it. Daphne is a lovely character, it’s a very positive portrayal of autism, and I loved the parts when she was an active character in the narrative, especially at the beginning of the book.


  1. Wow, this book sounds lame, The ‘magical autism’ element seems like it would be REALLY forced. I will usually read anything that has a main character with ASD but I’ll pass on this one. Great review! 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

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