WICKED GOOD by Amy Lewis Faircloth and Joanne Lewis, August 2011, Telemachus Press, $9.95, 250 pages.
Rory wears black clothes covered in skulls to keep other teens away. He doesn’t want people to laugh at the way he talks, how he paces when he’s anxious or his interest in lawn mowers and all things mechanical. Rory has Asperger’s syndrome (commonly known as AS), and he’s not alone.
“Wicked Good,” a first novel by sisters Amy Lewis Faircloth of Hampden and Joanne Lewis of Florida, is about a single mother, Archer, struggling to raise her adopted son, Rory. Their story opens a door into a world that is rarely seen.
“‘Wicked Good’ has really touched people,” said Lewis.
Rory isn’t a real 15-year-old, but his personality is based on Faircloth’s oldest son, now 19, who has AS. To protect her son’s privacy, she asked that he not be named in the article.
“I think that my son and I and Asperger’s is treated with respect throughout the whole book,” said Faircloth, who has spoken to her oldest son many times about the book and says that he is OK with it. “It’s based on his and my personal traits, but the situations are totally made up.”
AS is a developmental disorder that affects a person’s ability to socialize and communicate effectively. Children with the syndrome typically exhibit an all-absorbing interest in specific topics, according to Mayo Clinic staff. But there is a long list of AS symptoms that vary depending on the person, including inability to sleep, poor decision-making, lack of empathy and difficulty reading nonverbal signs.
“The disorder is being diagnosed more and more,” said Faircloth. “Pretty much everyone we mention it to knows somebody who has Asperger’s or is involved in it in some way.”
Though the incidence of AS is not well established, experts conservatively estimate that two out of every 10,000 children have the disorder, according to the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Named after Dr. Hans Asperger in 1944, AS is described as high-functioning autism that affects people with high and low IQs. Some people believe that celebrated geniuses Einstein and Mozart had AS.
“Wicked Good” unveils one experience of AS through intense dialogue and a dramatic, fictional plot that keeps the action rolling.
Lewis and Faircloth grew up on Long Island, N.Y., and both became attorneys. But while Lewis has been writing novels for years, Faircloth, a Bangor attorney, has no prior experience with fiction.
“Wicked Good” began with a phone call. Lewis, calling from sunny Florida, pitched the idea of writing a novel together. Faircloth, feeling that Maine March madness that has nothing to do with basketball, said, “Why not?”
The novel began as a way for the sisters to do something fun together, and it evolved into them wanting to educate people about AS through fiction.
“I didn’t know what Amy’s life was like,” said Lewis. “We talked about it. I heard about it. But I didn’t really know what Amy and [her sons’] life was like together. Growing up with a special needs child, I really didn’t get it, but now I do.”
The novel took them three years to complete, and after having a difficult time finding a publisher, they decided to create a blog and post chapters on the Internet accompanied by photos of places in Maine and Massachusetts that they visited to research for the book. Their blog gained followers, and after just two months, a publisher from a small press contacted the sisters. Now the entire book is published as an e-book (March 2011) and in paperback (August 2011).
“My family, we learned a lot during the process,” said Faircloth. “What we learned mostly was to accept each other and love each other and do it with humor … At some point, none of us can change who we are. But we all have something to offer.”
Faircloth used her experiences and knowledge, with the help of her two sons, to accurately write the family scenes. But as the story of acceptance progressed, the characters took on a life of their own. Rory’s violent outbursts and Archer’s battle with alcoholism are things that Faircloth has never personally experienced in her family.
Lewis wrote much of the historical fiction subplots (about the Salem Witch Trials and The Perfect Storm of 1991) and steered the plot to be a classic hero journey, which involves 12 stages, including a stage where the hero hits rock bottom.
In “Wicked Good,” many heroes collide and help each other along. Archer is battling addiction and a selfish ex-husband and is constantly doubting her parenting skills. Rory is on a quest to find his birth parents, understand AS and be a better son. And Rory’s troublemaking friend, Trish, quietly combats parental abuse and the stigmas surrounding her.
Though the main characters have no problem being in the spotlight, there is a richness and diversity of peripheral New England characters — the local policeman, the high school principal, gas station clerk, law firm assistant — and a web of unique relationships that links them all.
Trish, an unexpected scene stealer, has unresolved conflicts at the end of the book that will be picked up in “Wicked Wise,” scheduled to be published in 2012. In the sequel, 19-year-old Rory will be on a search for a “cure,” a mission catalyzed by bullying he endures at school.
“Wicked Good” has won the online 2011 Reader Favorite Award and it is among the finalists for the Royal Palm Literary Awards, the winner of which will be the determined Oct. 22 at a writers conference the sisters will attend together in Orlando.
Since starting the blog, Faircloth has connected with other bloggers, authors and readers who know people with AS.
“This tells people, they’re not alone,” Faircloth said. “They aren’t alone — someone just has to come out and say it.”
Faircloth will talk about her book and sign copies 6 p.m. Monday, Oct. 2, at Hampden Public Library. Read the first two chapters of “Wicked Good” at amyandjoanne.com. The book is available online and at Maine bookstores such as BookMarcs in Bangor and BookStacks in Belfast.