Archive for the ‘Autism’ Category

ThisIsNotALoveStoryI will readily admit that I am confused about Judy Brown’s goal in writing This is Not a Love Story: A Memoir. Her novel, Hush, was a condemnation of the Chassidic sect when it came to dealing with sexual abuse. The book jacket of This is Not a Love Story says that Ms. Brown has left the Chassidic world. So, was this a vilification of the Chassidic treatment of autism in the late 1980s or a little girl’s self centered view of her world with a brother deemed “crazy” and a family deemed to be “cursed” or was it an acclamation of what the right therapist/teacher can do to assist someone with autism to function in the world?Hush JKT.indd

I imagine it is hard enough to deal with a sibling who is ‘different’ but when the elders you are supposed to respect say your family is cursed because they did something against God’s will, for an eight year old girl it becomes even worse. In the first half of This is Not a Love Story Judy Brown (aka Menuchah) lists some of the many reasons she’s been told by her friends, her teachers and other adults in the community why her family might have been cursed. My favorite (not really) is that marriage partners are ordained by God. The Rabbis (with assistance from matchmakers) decide who is right for whom. It is not rare that a Chassidic bride and groom will meet only once prior to their wedding. Yet, Manuchah’s parents had the audacity to fall in love prior to getting married. God was angry as was her maternal grandfather who died a year and a half before Menuchah was born and levied his curse upon the family. The curse manifested itself in the form of Nachum, Menuchah’s younger brother by a year and a half who exhibited all the signs we currently attribute to autism but went undiagnosed in the late 1980s.

Menuchah’s family dealt with Nachum’s differentness by (i) banishing him to Israel for a year, (ii) sending him to a special school that was supposed to ‘cure’ him, (iii) sending him back to Israel. But the stigma of having a ‘crazy’ brother carries big, long lasting scars. Family friends were not hesitant to say Nachum should be institutionalized. The prospects of a proper match when Menuchah and her siblings were of marriage age diminished with Nachum front and center in the family. Only the perseverence and belief by their mother, Esther, that something could be done saved Nachum from an institutionalized life.

It also seems to me that, at times, her parents (her mother, in particular) showed a lack of responsibility in (i) not confronting these ‘curses’ and explaining they are not true and (ii) sending an uncontrollable Nachum, Manuchah and her younger siblings out with a teenage babysitter so that she could get the house ready for Passover.

I found This is Not a Love Story to be a disturbing book in so many ways. The author comes out as a self centered eight year old (yes, I know, most eight year olds are self centered) with no compassion whatsoever for her brother or the agony that her parents were going through. The views of the Chassidic community were equally disturbing: it’s God’s will, it’s God’s curse, institutionalize the boy, the boy is crazy. I realize the 1980s may not have been the ‘age of enlightenment’ but was it really that bad? In the end Ms. Brown states that the Chassidic community is much more accepting of children with autism or Down’s Syndrome. And while she should know, I wonder because the community is so insular (their belief that non-Jews are evil and should be avoided and not befriended is apparent in the book) and their belief in the ‘will of God’ is so strong, that I do wonder whether they would be accepting of an autistic child in their midst.

This is Not a Love Story is a fast read (but not an easy read) and there are some touching moments, especially at the end. But as I said, it is very disturbing as well.

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GirlDefectiveThe Martin children are named after birds: fifteen year old Skylark (Sky) and eleven year old Seagull (Gully). Their mother left them when Sky was 10 to become a performance artist…in Japan. She has little contact with her former family. Their father never moved past the 1970s, owning a record shop that won’t stock anything past 1980, won’t stock CDs and won’t sell on the internet. He spends most days on the verge of drunkenness.

Unfortunately these circumstances leave Sky with primary responsibility for Gully who is autistic. He wears a pig snout most of the time which, as you can imagine, doesn’t endear him to his schoolmates. He fancies himself a detective and when a brick is thrown through the store window, he makes it his business to track down the perpetrator. She also helps out at the record store, which doesn’t get much traffic.

Sky’s only friend is a world-wise nineteen year old, Nancy. It must be true that opposites attract because Nancy is everything that Sky isn’t.

When Mr. Martin hires Luke Casey to work at the store for the Christmas season, Sky is miffed. When it turns out that Luke’s younger sister drowned after drinking and posters of her keep cropping up all over town, Sky is intrigued. The fact that Luke is cute doesn’t hurt.

Girl Defective by Simmone Howell is a story about growing up, both teens and adults. Sky must learn what the world is all about (on her own and through Nancy) and her father has to move into the new century and take on his fatherly responsibilities. Howell’s characters are good, although at times I’d like to hammer Mr. Martin for foisting Gully on Sky all the time, and her writing is descriptive, at some points exceptional (“Night fell soft as a shrug. Even the palm trees looked tired, like showgirls standing around waiting for their pay.”). Any story rooted in music is a plus, especially 70s and 80s music. Of course, since this takes place in Australia, I don’t know some of the musical references, but that’s OK.

All in all, Girl Defective is a fun book.



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NeverLookBackNever Look Back by Clare Donoghue is a debut novel and it’s a pretty fair start to a series (I’m sure it’s going to be a series). Detective Inspector Mike Lockyer is head of homicide on the South London police force. He’s called early one January morning because a young girl has been found murdered.

His second in command, Jane Bennett, upon Mike’s getting to the scene of the crime, tries to warn him before he looks at the body, but it’s too late. This girl bears a remarkable resemblance to his seventeen year old daughter, Megan.

Unfortunately, the bodies start to pile up.

In a separate incident, another young woman, Sarah Grainger, reports that she is being stalked. Whoever it is has intensified his silent phone calls in the middle of the night.

Lockyer and his team investigate both crimes. Are they related?

In a side story, Lockyer deals with his younger autistic brother, in a group home. He never knew he had a brother until his parent’s passing, five years earlier.

There’s definitely action and suspense in Never Look Back. Lockyer and Bennett are good characters. They work well together and obviously care for each other.

I said at the beginning that Never Look Back was a pretty fair first novel–which I meant in a complimentary way. But if you were to ask me what would make it a great first novel, I wouldn’t be able to answer you. While I wouldn’t mind reading a sequel, I wouldn’t run to put it on my “do not miss” list.

Let me know what you think.



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NavigatingEarlyWe are all on a quest. It is 1945, Early Auden is searching for his brother, thought to have been killed in France in World War II. John (Jackie) Baker III, uprooted from his land-locked Kansas home and relocated to coastal Maine soon after his mother died of cancer, is searching for redemption because he wasn’t at home when she died and he was supposed to take care of her in his father’s absence.

Early and Jackie meet at the Morton Hill Academy boarding school. Jackie’s first sight of Early is on the beach as Early is filling sandbags and piling them up. Early being a loner and Jackie being new to the school, it is an interesting fit.

When Jackie’s Naval father can’t make it to school to pick him up for Fall break, Jackie decides to accompany Early on a real quest, rather than be alone at school for a week. Interspersed with the journey is Early’s fascination with Pi and the thought that numbers in this equation might disappear, thus introducing the possibility that it is a finite vs. infinite number. Early sees Pi as more than merely numbers. It has color and shape and texture and he has created a story based on his vision, much of which plays out on their journey.

Although I’m not a fan of the phrase ‘coming of age’, Clare Vanderpool has written a fascinating story about two boys and many other characters that learn the truth about themselves and their worlds. There’s the ancient Mrs. Johannsen, waiting 50 years for her son to come home from the woods and the pirate MacScott carrying around his own burden. There is Gunnar, the woodsman, who has lost his way and his love because of one act. There is Jackie’s father who has divorced himself from memories of his wife. And there is Early and Jackie, two of the most likeable characters you’re likely to meet in a very long time.

Ms. Vanderpool’s Ackowledgement explains the ‘story behind the story’ and is worth reading.

The words. The story. The characters. I wouldn’t change a word of Clare Vanderpool’s Navigating Early. It is certainly in contention for one of the 10 Best Books of 2013..and it’s ‘early’ in the year…pun intended.

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