‘Dandelions remind me of the way I close myself off from so much of the world, either because it’s too painful to see of feel, or because when I am open to people the ridicule comes. The bullying. The foul-mouthed insults directed at the intense joy I feel, directed at my excitement, at my passion. For years I kept it to myself, but now these words are leaking into the world.’
Four of the five of the McAnulty’s family members are neuro-divergent and the fact that autism is a big part of this memoir is important. The author was diagnosed with Asperger’s as a young child and feels truly happy and at peace when he is in nature. His heightened sensitivity shines through in every sentence and his descriptions of wildlife brought me deeply into his world, not only as a fabulous naturalist but also what it is like to be autistic for him. Northern Ireland and its plants, birds and insects made for a surprisingly gripping read and detailed lesson in biology. I often had the impression that I was there watching, sitting and listening to the sounds because McAnulty’s writing is alive and each page paints a detailed image in the reader’s mind.
‘My head is pretty hectic most of the time, and watching daphnia, pond skaters and dragonfly nymphs is a medicine for this overactive brain.’
When the author’s parents decide that they have to move house to another part of the country, his initial reaction is grief and anxiety because he cares so deeply for the nature he observes and feels connected to that a separation seems too painful to bear. For an autistic person change is very stressful and the central story of the book is how the strong family bond, their love for books and, above all, nature and its wildlife, eventually manage to help pull him out of his emotional slump.
‘When I’m sitting and watching, grown-ups usually ask if I’m okay. Like it’s not okay just to sit and process the world. To figure things out and watch other species go about their day. Wildlife never disappoints like people can. Nature has a purity to me, unaffected.’
This quote moved me a lot and there were countless other similarly touching paragraphs that made me look up from the page and think about what I’d just read.
‘Many people accuse me of ‘not looking autistic’. I have no idea what that means. I know lots of ‘autistics’ and we all look different. We’re not some recognisable breed. We are human beings.’
Each person is unique and therefore experiences life differently. It was uplifting to read this memoir where the author conveyed his central point with heart and soul: if you’re deeply attuned with the healing properties of nature, happiness ensues.
The Book in three words: passionate, inspirational and evocative
I’d love to know your thoughts on the book if you’ve read it!
‘This diary chronicles the turning of my world, from spring to winter, at home, in the wild, in my head.’
Evocative, raw and lyrical, this startling debut explores the natural world through the eyes of Dara McAnulty, an autistic teenager coping with the uprooting of home, school, and his mental health, while pursuing his life as a conservationist and environmental activist.
Shifting from intense darkness to light, recalling his sensory encounters in the wild – with blackbirds, whooper swans, red kites, hen harriers, frogs, dandelions, Irish hares and more – McAnulty reveals worlds we have neglected to see, in a stunning world of nature writing that is a future classic.
Diary of a Young Naturalist is a powerful and scintillating portrayal of the beauty of the natural world, as it shines a light on autism and of overcoming severe anxiety. It is a story of the binding love of family and home, and how we can help each other through the most difficult of times.
About the author
17 year old Dara McAnulty is an autistic naturalist and multi-award winning author. He is the youngest ever recipient of the RSPB Medal and the youngest author to win a literary prize. ‘Diary of a Young Naturalist’, his debut book, was released in May 2020 to wide critical acclaim. It won The Wainwright Prize for nature writing, An Post Irish Book Awards – Newcomer of the Year, Books Are My Bag Readers Awards – Non-fiction Book of the Year, Hay Festival Book of the Year and The Big Issue Book of the Year. His second book – ‘Wild Child: A Journey Through Nature’ is coming July 2020. Follow Dara on Twitter @NaturalistDara or Instagram @dara_mcanulty