The Washington Post

In this new middle-grade novel, ADHD is just a part of the story


When my teen son was younger, I found myself at my favorite bookstore, asking whether there were any middle-grade novels featuring a main character with attention-deficit/hyperactiv­ity disorder (ADHD). My son was a reluctant reader, and he was diagnosed with ADHD when he was in fifth grade. I figured a book that reflected his experience might hold his interest. Plus, I wanted him to see that ADHD can be a superpower; I found that the way his brain worked, and how he worked around what others would see as obstacles, was pretty amazing. There were some options — including our beloved Percy Jackson series — but nothing quite like what I had in mind.

That’s why, when I recently saw the premise for the new middle-grade book “A Perfect Mistake,” I wanted to read it. When I finished, I handed it off to my 12-year-old, the younger brother to our reluctant reader. He was captivated; I had to beg him to turn his lights off and go to sleep already. Although he doesn’t have ADHD, I’m pretty sure it gave him some insight into his brother.

The book was just what I had been looking for years ago.

I recently spoke with Melanie Conklin, the author of the book, about why she wrote it, what inspired her and what she hopes children (and parents) will take away from it.

This conversati­on has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: Tell me about this book. How did it come to be?

A: I started thinking about this book four or five years ago. I knew I wanted to write a book that centered on a child with ADHD who was struggling with a situation where they felt they made a terrible mistake. I really love books with high-stakes situations but that have relevant issues of growing up.

What if this child has made a really bad mistake, but comes to learn other people make bad choices, too? A child with ADHD really ends up thinking something is wrong with them, because they get so much of that feedback, but I want to show them that other people and adults make mistakes, too. I loved books that showed messy grown-ups.

Q: Let’s talk ADHD. Why does your main character, Max, have it?

A: My experience with ADHD started when I met my husband in high school 28 years ago. That was a time when ADHD was just starting to be recognized and diagnosed. By the time we got to college, he was failing out. It was becoming more common knowledge that this might be going on, so I took him to the health center, and he was diagnosed with ADHD. And my older son, who just turned 16, has ADHD, so it’s been a part of my life and something I’ve navigated a lot. The parts of the story where I’m showing you how this goes with Max is what we’re dealing with every day. I relate to parenting and managing all of that.

We’re really fortunate that there are so many resources for kids now. I won’t spoil the book, but a lot of times when kids get diagnosed, adults do, too.

I specifical­ly showed Max with the inattentiv­e type of ADHD, because that’s what my son and husband are diagnosed with. These kids are often called daydreamer­s, or they zone out or they’re flaky. But their brain is constantly going. It shouldn’t be called a “deficit”; it’s not a lack of attention.

Unfortunat­ely, we aren’t born with a manual; we write it as we go. And we shouldn’t expect everyone’s user manual to look the same. We should tell kids, “We’re going to pay attention to you and what strategies work for you, and let you write your own manual.” And that is how you empower a kid.

That’s what I tried to show with Max. Part of where he got the conviction to help his friend is he has already gone through this trial and tribulatio­n. He’s kind of willing to put his neck out there, and I think that’s because of who he is, not despite who is.

Max was given this feeling of not being enough, and I wanted to show that who he is is enough. I think sometimes we need to work harder at understand­ing other people’s perspectiv­es. The real gift of humanity is to imagine and empathize with other humans.

Q: Despite so many children being diagnosed with ADHD, I feel as if I haven’t seen many books where the main character is a kid with ADHD. Have you felt the same?

A: I had already read several, including “Focused” by Alyson Gerber. Most of them focus on the diagnosis part of the journey. Discoverin­g that you have ADHD is something I know a lot of kids really relate to. I wanted to write about a kid who’s just living with ADHD. Max already has support people in place, like this cool therapist. I just felt like I wanted to show that this is how your life can be. This kid is out here solving a mystery and helping his community.

Q: What do you hope readers will get out of this book?

A: I hope anyone who reads this story is wildly entertaine­d. I hope they are also then surprised by the emotional connection they feel by the end of the story, and they get a sense of reward as Max figures out his life. And that they will get a sense of assurance that they will figure out their life, too.

Through my stack of books as a kid, I got such reassuranc­e that I will be able to get through. It’s comforting to relate to these fictional people. I do end up feeling as if the characters in my books are real. This one was emotional for me, because so many qualities about Max relate to my son.

I’m a more anxious person who likes to clean. I don’t like having stuff out; it makes me feel stressed. My son explained to me, because every inch of his room is covered in objects, that if everything is out, “I can find it really fast.” Oh, so there’s a functional­ity here. It hadn’t crossed my mind that he needed to do his room differentl­y.

I’m hoping there are some of those moments in this book, and readers go: “Oh, it’s not a choice. It’s a different way of moving through the world.”

 ?? Courtesy of Melanie Conklin ?? Melanie Conklin, the author of “A Perfect Mistake,” with her son. Most of the books regarding attention-deficit/hyperactiv­ity disorder focus on the diagnosis part of the journey, Conklin says. She instead wanted to write about a child who’s living with ADHD.
Courtesy of Melanie Conklin Melanie Conklin, the author of “A Perfect Mistake,” with her son. Most of the books regarding attention-deficit/hyperactiv­ity disorder focus on the diagnosis part of the journey, Conklin says. She instead wanted to write about a child who’s living with ADHD.

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