Another way in which fiction reflects reality so well

Jillian Enright

The Grisha Are A Lot Like Neurodivergent People

I really wish I could remember who recommended the Six of Crows duology to me so I could thank them.

I don’t typically go in for fantasy-type novels, but I am so glad I gave this one a try. I’m now on the next duology, King of Scars, by the same author, Leigh Bardugo.

I wrote previously about how fiction so often reflects reality, and I’ve encountered another parallel that has stuck with me.

Earlier this week I read a passage that resonated with the work I do as an advocate, but also with my personal experience as someone who has never quite fit in, and the parent of a child who has struggled in this way.

Before I share the passage, I’ll provide a brief backstory — don’t worry, there are no spoilers!

Shadow & Bone

Many may have heard of this author’s earlier trilogy, Shadow and Bone, which has been made into a Netflix series. I have neither watched the show nor read those books, but that trilogy is where it all began.

The Six of Crows books follow a group of 6 misfits who work together to pull off a near-impossible heist.

They are known and described as:
Matthias, a convict with a thirst for revenge; Jesper, a sharpshooter who can’t walk away from a wager; Wylan, a runaway with a privileged past; Inej, a spy known as the Wraith; Nina, a Heartrender using her magic to survive the slums. They are a motley crew, led by Kaz, a thief with a gift for unlikely escapes.

Each character has been rejected in one way or another, either by their own family, their hometown, or by society in general. They are all outsiders, each with a special gift and a hard-earned chip on their shoulder.

Nina is part of the Grisha, a group of people who are born with powers. They are considered witches and an abomination by certain sectors of society. As a result, many are taught to hide their gifts in oder to avoid persecution.

In King of Scars Grisha are being hunted, enslaved, and experimented upon. Midway through the book, Nina meets another Grisha who is also living in secret to avoid capture. After this meeting, Nina makes the following observation:

“There was gold in her, Nina could see it, the shine dimmed by years of being told there was something wrong in the way she was made.”

A little too close to home

Ouch.

This happened to me as a child, I saw this happen to my son when he was in a school with adults who didn’t even try to understand him, and I see this with other neurodiverse children I support.

“…shine dimmed by years of being told there was something wrong in the way she was made.”

Neurodivergent people, especially as children, are often told the same thing the Grisha are told. They are instructed to hide their differences and work hard to fit in. Instead of celebrating their gifts, Grisha are taught to be ashamed of what makes them special and unique.

I see the light dimmed in children who are constantly corrected or criticized for things beyond their control.

I see their light dimmed when they are shamed and ostracized for being different.

I see their light dimmed when the focus is constantly on their weaknesses and rarely on their strengths.

I saw the light dimmed in my son when he was treated as though his stress behaviours were intentional and when he was punished for behaviours related to his neurodivergence.

I saw the light dimmed in my son when the people at his former school only noticed his struggles and didn’t even try to understand or get to know the awesome kid he really is.

Fiction has much to teach us

Now I see my son’s light shine because he is treated like a human being worthy of caring, respect, and love. I see his light shine because he has discovered strengths he didn’t know he had. I see it as his self-confidence grows.

That is what happens when we show our children unconditional love and acceptance, when we teach instead of punish, and when we take the time to truly understand them.

In the line that follows, Nina thinks to herself:

“Those glimpses of the real Hanne, the Hanne who was meant to be…”

Our children’s true personalities emerge when they are free to be themselves and pursue their own interests and passions. When they are supported rather than criticized, when their unique gifts are fostered, then we get to see what they are truly capable of — and who they are meant to be.

© Jillian Enright, Neurodiversity MB

Works cited

Bardugo, L. (2012). Shadow and Bone. Henry Holt & Company.

Bardugo, L. (2013). Siege and Storm. Henry Holt & Company.

Bardugo, L. (2014). Ruin and Rising. Henry Holt & Company.

Bardugo, L. (2015). Six of Crows. Henry Holt & Company.

Bardugo, L. (2016). Crooked Kingdom. Orion.

Bardugo, L. (2019). King of Scars. Imprint.

Bardugo, L. (2021). Rule of Wolves. Orion.

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Neurodivergent. 20+ years social work and psychology experience. I write about mental health, neurodiversity, advocacy, education, and parenting. Founder of Neurodiversity MB. CYW, BA Psychology.

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