Friday, September 29, 2006

Clay, by Colby Rodowski

This is a book about kids in crisis. Elsie and her younger brother, Tommy, are abducted by their non-custodial parent. Elsie is pulled in so many directions as she balances her love and loyalty to each of her parents, responsibility for her brother, the desire to be a normal kid, and the battle to find her own identity.

Without a doubt, this book is written for kids - the writing style and the predictability of the plot fall right in line with most fifth grade readers. But the subject matter, the realistic circumstances, and the raw emotion of the book are far from standard pre-teen fare, so much so that I could only recommend it to a ten year old if she's got the disposition and the opportunity to talk about the story with an appropriate adult. It just seems odd to me to find a book written for an audience too young to understand the inner turmoil churning inside the main character.

The younger brother in the book is autistic. As you might have guessed, that's what led me to the book in the first place. The book doesn't really address autism though, except as a plot device.

I ought to give this book high marks. After all, I cried at least three times while I was reading, and I'm definitely glad I read it. For reasons I can't quite put my finger on, I don't feel like I can rate the book better than three stars. I think it's because by the time you are old enough to grasp the full weight of Elsie's struggles you're too old for the predictable plot.

3 Stars
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Thursday, September 14, 2006

Making Peace with Autism, by Susan Senator

The full title of this excellent book is Making Peace with Autism: One Family's Story of Struggle, Discovery, and Unexpected Gifts. The author, Susan Senator, relates the experiences of her family, which includes herself, her husband, and their three sons. The oldest of these three sons, Nat, has autism. Ms. Senator gives us an authentic, honest view of her family as they learn to cope with – and love – their autistic son and brother.

What I most appreciate about this book is that it neither sugar coats nor sensationalizes the difficulties they have faced. I'm also glad that Ms. Senator gives equal emphasis to the happiness they have experienced. She shares feelings of depression and self-doubt (which must be difficult to do as openly as she does), but also shares feelings of hope and even triumph as she, Nat, and the rest of their family reach milestones and move past them. By faithfully describing both the joy and the pain, she has avoided writing a flat history. Instead, she has created a credible, emotional memoir with substance and depth, one that feels real.

Yet another great aspect of this book is that, despite the atypical struggles autism has forced upon them, Ms. Senator and her family seem very normal (although I wonder how she'd react to hearing her family described as normal - as a compliment, I suspect). The author isn't on a crusade for any particular miracle cure, doesn't preach any specific treatment, doesn't impose shame on the reader for not following a particular autism dogma. After so many books with an agenda, it's refreshing to read something not written by an extremist.

I recommend this book to anyone who wants to know what it feels like to parent a child with exceptional needs. For those who already know how it feels, you'll see yourself in this book's pages again and again.

An enthusiastic 5 stars
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