In Monique Polak’s YA novel, Hate Mail, Jordie’s cousin Todd has moved back to Montreal and is attending Jordie’s high school. Todd has autism and Jordie does not want people to know that he and Todd are related. When Todd’s family receives a hateful letter, Jordie will be forced to reconsider his own behavior. Hate Mail is based on real-life events.
“Todd presses his hands over his ears and starts making this awful sound I’ve never heard before. It’s like a horse whinnying. If it was anybody else, I’d put my hand on his shoulder to calm him down. But I can’t touch Todd.
At least this makes Isobel stop screaming.
‘Todd,’ I say as calmly as I can, ‘Isobel didn’t mean to scare you. She’s worried. Samantha needs a doctor, and the phone’s not working.’ I can feel the others watching us. ‘Let’s take a few deep breaths.’ I’ve seen Aunt Anna do this with Todd.
Todd and I breathe in and out. We do it a few times.
Todd drops his hands back to his sides and sighs. ‘If there’s no phone,’ he says, ‘we can use the ELT.’
‘The ELT? What’s an ELT?’ I ask him.
“The emergency locator transmitter,’ Todd says, ‘Every plane has one.’”
1. In Hate Mail, Jordie does not want his friends to know Todd is his cousin. Jordie initially fails to stand up for Todd when Todd could use his help. Imagine that you are Jordie and that you are writing a letter of apology to your cousin in which you try to explain why you have had so much trouble acknowledging your relationship. Be as honest as you can about your feelings.
2. Many youngsters with autism have a fascination with a particular subject. In Hate Mail, Todd is fascinated by airplanes. His knowledge helps the kids in the story when they are trapped in a dangerous windstorm. What subject do you know a lot about? Write a short scene in which a character reveals his or her knowledge about a particular subject, then write a second short scene in which the character’s knowledge is used to help others.
3. Imagine another situation in which a young person with autism might come to the rescue of his classmates. Pretend you are a reporter and write a newspaper account of the events you imagined. Include the most important details in your opening paragraph; also include quotes from your imaginary characters.
(400 – 500 words)