Show Us Who You Are- Elle McNicoll

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll

I am so pleased, humbled and a little wobbly about taking part in the Blog Tour to celebrate Elle McNicoll’s Show Us Who You Are, a truly wonderful book and a fitting follow up to her stunning debut A Kind of Spark.

In Elle McNicoll’s sophomore novel she flexes her muscles and shows us she is a writing force to be reckoned with as in Show Us Who You Are we are transported to a near contemporary world of advanced technology, but the same human compulsions and problems as we follow Cora and her experiences at the Pomegranate Institute.

Show Us Who You Are is a razor sharp and painfully portentous exploration and observation of humanity and eternity with mythic undertones.

As Cora stumbles into friendship with the Adrien the son of her brother’s powerful boss she is drawn into the murky world of The Pomegranate Insititute, a place that offers holographic avatar experiences.

“Well, we interview real people and study them so that we can make a gram of them and then they can live forever. Literally. Like virtual mortality. Then their loved ones can visit them after they’ve died.”

When a holographic image of Tupac appeared on stage at Coachella 2012 fifteen years after his death, whether or not you knew or appreciated his music the world reacted in a wave; of shock; delight; disbelief; dismissive ridicule; and some in a heady nostalgic glow. We had seen Oliver Reed’s actions digitally reworked in Gladiator to fill in the scenes filmed after his death and similar puppetry of long passed Golden Age stars (even up to today with the digital aging down of Original Trilogy Star Wars characters) but this was something different.

Despite not being a true hologram, this 21st century reboot of the 1862 Pepper’s Ghost technique made a profound impact due to its 3D like mirage and seeming interactivity as ‘he’ greeted the crowd with the name of the festival founded years after his death and made people THINK, of the potential in terms of entertainment, profit and ethics.

This coupled with the unnervingly advanced developments in deep fake technology means that the world of Show Us Who You Are and the Pomegranate Institute are a near-contemporary as much as a near-future Sci-fi.

And it is incredibly clever and insightful to challenge children to weight and balance their opinions about such technological advances now rather than when it actually happens.

… I wonder what it must be like.To see someone come back to life in the form of a hologram. I can’t understand dad’s reaction… never having to say goodbye to somebody.

But as much as a speculative fiction in regards to the ethics of technology there is a human and primal experience underpinning the reasoning.

The journey within Show Us Who You Are particularly focuses on Grief. Grief for a person; the grief for a person as they are in our minds; and importantly grief for the person we think WE should be.

Throughout Elle galvanises & tempers in the forge of the narrative Cora’s anger, frustration and shame at her neurodivergence. Hammering her pain into our hearts as Cora berates herself for mask slipping, for not knowing the steps to the dance of being sociable or the words to the song of making friends- oh how my heart pounded in resonance and recognition at how like Cora, I have grieved for the person I thought I SHOULD be rather than celebrating the person I am, weird wibbly awkward bits, bouncing leg and all.

I Wonder if I should actually tell him. It will probably sound so silly to him. Other kids never seem to be quite so intense, or so serious. They rarely understand why I care about certain things so much, or why I have a hard time letting some things go. Even Zoe sometimes sighs and asks me why I fixate on things the way I do.

Cora is a marvel as she navigates a world set against her being the way she is, but luckily she has a ship crewed with such love and support in her father and brother and indeed Adrien.

And thank you thank you thank you Elle for showing a positive (and realistic in its struggles with perceptions) representation of Home education in Adrien and his mother’s (I love her) ability to read him and reframe to suit his needs. As someone home educating two girls who don’t dance to the tune of formal schooling this rung so true (the father’s attitudes I have heard before!!) and made my heart soar.

Now, personal reflection, you are welcome to skip this if you want…

As much as A Kind of Spark made me rethink myself, there were heartstopping, sharp intake of breath kinships with Cora even barely chapters in.

When Elle says she speaks and writes for those who never saw themselves in books it is a truly empowering thing. When I first came across Elle and her writing I was an immediate supporter as a person with several family members recognised and diagnosed autistic and who as a teacher had done my utmost to create a safe and nurturing space in my classroom for all but especially neurodiverse children.

Although I had had my suspicions, having a profoundly autistic brother muddies the waters of experience and makes one kind and understanding to everyone but oneself; it was only reading A Kind of Spark and then Show Us Who You Are is truly a thump in the stomach, the floor giving way and a resonance that I had never felt before with a character, that I DO THOSE THINGS TOO. Sure I had associated and aspired to characters in books before but never recognised so much in characters (ok I’ll give you Luna Lovegood) and I began to realise the gaps in my puzzle, to poke the tendrils of why I feel like real life is a dance recital where you can fake it to a point but everyone else seems to know the choreography by heart.

I can say hand on heart that Elle, Knights Of and her editing team are truly treasures, that to see deep and fully realised neurodiverse characters in books, and not only that but THE HEROINE, who see the world like you do is like hearing a crystal glass ting but in your soul.

Thank you Elle, Thank you Knights Of and Ed Pr for inviting me on the tour. I thoroughly recommend that you visit the other stops on the tour!!

I apologise for the fangirling and wobbly emotional bits.

Show Us Who You Are by Elle McNicoll is published by Knights Of.

5 thoughts on “Show Us Who You Are- Elle McNicoll

  1. A truly fantastic review Lily! I really, really need to read this one! Elle is an incredible writer. After reading A Kind of Spark, I bought copies for school, and I have no doubt it will be the same with this one!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Mary, this is such an incredible book packed with lots of opportunities for introspection and empathy BUT is equally a fantastic thriller and will be perfect for adventure/mystery readers too.

      Liked by 1 person

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