Book Reviews

‘The best moments in reading are when you come across something - a thought, a feeling, a way of looking at things - which you had thought special and particular to you. And now, here it is, set down by someone else, a person you have never met, someone even who is long dead. And it is as if a hand has come out, and taken yours.’ Alan Bennett

“Many a book is like a key to unknown chambers within the castle of one’s own self.” ― Franz Kafka

Wednesday 19 June 2013

Welcome to Biscuit Land: A Year in the life of Touretteshero - Jessica Thom, foreword by Stephen Fry

'Tourettes is a mysterious neurological condition. Having it means I make movements and noises I can't control - these are called tics. Sometimes they're simple and just involve me squeaking or nodding my head. Sometimes, though, they're more complicated and involve me saying stuff like 'Sexually frustrated dog food.' And that's when it gets interesting.'

Jess has Tourettes Syndrome, which results in her making sounds and movements much of the time and over which she has no control. She is one of about ten percent of people with Tourettes Syndrome who swears. Welcome to Biscuit Land is an intimate account by Jess of her life over the course of one year. Jess set up Touretteshero, which the book explains is 'an organisation that celebrates the humour and creativity of Tourettes without mocking or self-pity...It's about reclaiming the most frequently misunderstood syndrome on the planet.' Jess proclaims at the start her account that 'from this point on Tourettes won't be my problem - it'll be my power. From now on, I'm going to be Touretteshero.'

Jess writes openly and honestly about living with Tourettes and about the ways in which it can and does affect her daily life. I found this an informative, honest and very moving account and found I learned a lot about Tourettes through the straightforward way that Jess has recorded her thoughts, activities and tics here. Her account is very readable, and I hope it encourages more people to find out about and understand Tourettes a bit more, which in turn ought to help further reduce any preconceived ideas about the syndrome. If you're wondering about the title of the book, 'biscuit' is one of the tics that Jess found herself uttering an awful lot at the time of writing. 

Jess introduces us to those in her life who she is closest to, who have shown her love, understanding and support. This book is not without humour and optimism. Jess writes of the friendship she has with the first person with Tourettes that she met, noting 'that those who tic together stick together.' She receives varied reactions and she always tries to engage in conversation with people to encourage an understanding of what happens to her and why. 

'I never know how people will react. There's not one group or type of person that seems to respond more positively or negatively than any other. All I know is, when I leave my house in the morning other people will react, and their reactions will be mixed. I'm sure this isn't unique to Tourettes, but is something that's experienced by people with any conditions that make them stand out.'

At times though it's very hard to read what happens, both in the way that Jess's physical tics can make her hurt herself, and in the form of the reactions of others to her tics, without feeling very saddened. As someone who enjoys walking, I struggled to comprehend what it must be like to want to walk but be in constant fear of crashing to the ground as Jess is whilst walking. There's one particularly unkind comment a woman makes when Jess is waiting for a tube, which is hurtful and affects Jess badly when it happens. I felt that what she wrote about this was very telling indeed and perfectly illustrates how people don't always think about what they say or do, not considering the affect it might have: '...the woman's comment had really hurt. She could carry on with her day and never be disturbed by my tics again. I don't have that choice.'  There's a moment in a bar, too, which made me feel angry at the way Jess and her friend were spoken to.

I'm really glad to have read this book, to have had the opportunity to get to know Jess Thom a little through her words and to have discovered more about what Tourettes is like through her open, moving and brave first-hand account. There's a lovely foreword to the book by Stephen Fry too.

Published by Souvenir Press

Thank you to the publisher for kindly sending me a copy of this novel to read and review.

You can follow @touretteshero on twitter and find out more here. 

Here's a link to a lovely guest blog that Jessica Thom wrote for Souvenir Press last year about the road to publication of the book. 

This is the first book in my new occasional series on the blog, featuring a non-fiction title in the spotlight.

Do feel free to join in from time to time with a non-fiction book review on your own blog.


  1. I've seen Jess on TV in the past and I think she is such an inspiring lady! This sounds like a really interesting read, thank you for sharing Lindsay :)

    1. Thanks very much for commenting Kate. I agree, she is very inspiring. I think you'd find this one interesting too.


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