Tag Archives: autism

‘The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism’ by Naoki Higashida, K.A Yoshida, David Mitchell

When The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time by Mark Haddon was published, it was an immediate sensation because it gave such a sensitive inside look into the mind of a boy with autism. Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close by Jonathan Safran Foer did the same. Both of these, though wonderful novels, are fiction. The Reason I Jump is written by a thirteen year old Japanese boy himself, using an alphabet grid. Painstakingly Naoki constructed words and sentences that resulted in a one-of-a-kind memoir, giving a rare view into how an autistic mind thinks, feels, perceives and responds.

David Mitchell, author of Cloud Atlas, (whose Japanese wife did the translation) writes a foreword and a postscript to the book and since he is an accomplished author, probably assisted in putting it onto bestsellers lists. His commitment and passion for this topic are clearly evident and come from a heart that knows the struggle of communication. Mitchell himself suffers from the speech disorder of stammering and his son has autism.

One of the difficult things is that the actions and interactions of people with autism are so often misunderstood. And there is nothing more frustrating than being misunderstood. That is what makes this such an important and revolutionary book for anyone who wants to better understand the effort it takes for someone with autism to navigate the world.

It’s a short book, mostly in Q & A format, with questions like “Why do you line up your toy cars and blocks?” “Why do you memorize train timetables and calendars?”“Why don’t you make eye contact when you’re talking?””Do you prefer to be alone?””Is it true that you hate being touched?””What’s the worst thing about having autism?” The book also contains some beautiful stories written by Naoki which reveal his acute intellect and imagination. Most notable is that Naoki loves nature and being outside in green just makes his heart sing. Like the friend who recommended this book to me mentioned, “Is that really so surprising? Isn’t that how God made us?”

‘The Rosie Project’ by Graeme Simsion

The Rosie ProjectstarstarstarstarWhat a funny, original love story, very clever and entertaining. I enjoying it thoroughly. And finally, a romantic comedy from the guy’s point of view!

Don Tillman is autistic and sees the world through the lens of logic without a lot of emotion because he is simply incapable of it. His brain is not wired that way. The subtleties of humour and sarcasm are lost on him, which is what makes the book hilarious (a bit like Sheldon in the The Big Bang Theory). He thrives in an atmosphere of routine, predictability, and of course science. When Don decides that it might be advantageous to acquire a partner, he sets out on the Wife Project. Of course the survey he devises as a means for finding a suitable candidate efficiently, is totally objective and meant to screen out people who smoke and drink, who are chronically late, overweight, vegetarian etc. But into his life walks Rosie, who meets none of the right criteria, but has quite an unexpected effect on him!

When I did my usual research on the author, I was surprised by what I found. Before Graeme Simsion’s mid-life career change to novelist, he was an information technology consultant with a PhD! He decided to go into screenwriting which then led him into writing ‘The Rosie Project’. He found himself to be uniquely qualified in this new endeavour despite what the skeptics might say about going from technology to writing novels. Actually the processes and skills used in design theory for data-modelling transferred well to the writing, helping him with the construct of the novel. See his Ted Talk where he describes this a bit more.

In an era when many people undergo mid-life career shifts, the story of the author is as compelling as the Rosie Project itself and is very encouraging. The creative elements you know in one field, can help you in a seemingly unrelated field if you are willing to think outside of the box and apply what you know to something new.

‘Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close’ by Jonathan Safran Foer

A long time ago someone recommended this book to me. She said, “when you read it, I want to talk about it with you.” I must confess, it has taken me some time to get to it, but Laura, I’m ready to talk now. This book is so unusual and creative. It is an extremely good story and incredibly unique. It is funny and sad and moving and innovative.  It is an adventure story but also tackles the tough stuff like the problem of pain in our lives and the ways in which we deal with that.  The book has lots of pictures, and I love picture books.

Oskar is nine years old and autistic. After his father is killed in the World Trade Center, Oskar finds a key in his father’s closet and embarks on a quest to discover the lock which fits this mysterious key. Oskar is extremely smart and incredibly brave. He is an inventor and his imagination is unstoppable. It is so much fun to dwell alongside the quirky thoughts in his head as he travels around NYC.  The author must have enjoyed inventing the unusual effects in his book. I’m not even sure I’ve figured them all out, so I’m glad I can ask him myself when I attend a writers’ conference in April. What has me stumped are the six doorknob pictures and their exact significance. It feels like a riddle of my own to solve. Please comment if you’ve read the book and have it figured out.

One important thing to know is that there are two story lines in addition to Oskar’s. The chapters entitled “Why I’m Not Where You Are” are letters written by Thomas’ father explaining his reasons for returning to Germany before Thomas was born. The chapters entitled “My Feelings” are a letter from Oskar’s grandmother, explaining some things in her life.

Here is the trailer for the movie starring Tom Hanks and Sandra Bullock. Although I haven’t seen the movie yet, I have a sense that some of the literary techniques will be lost in the movie as well as the opportunity to enter Oskar’s head. But it’s still a cracking good story either way.

‘House Rules’ by Jodi Picoult

‘Life is like a box of chocolates, you never know what you’re gonna get’…

There are lots of movie quotes in Jodi Picoult’s new novel ‘House Rules’, but this one would not describe her novels. With Picoult novels you do know what you will get, to a certain degree. There is often a medical condition or a moral issue, a court case, and a family drama.  The book is often written from the perspective of several different characters in the story, and explores relationships and emotions in real depth and intricacy. There are usually a  few twists and turns in the story, sometimes ones that make you gasp. One thing is absolutely sure, Picoult always keeps you guessing till the very end.

I’ve read more than a dozen of Picoult’s novels and if I’m honest, some I’ve enjoyed more than others. My favourite so far has always been My Sister’s Keeper, but I would have to now say that House Rules may have challenged that. I found Picoult’s writing clean and less cluttered in this book and the ending made good sense.

In House Rules, Asperger’s Syndrome is featured and in the process of reading you learn alot about it. One review I read written by someone with Asperger’s herself, commented that Picoult’s research may have been too good and she wanted to include too much. The reviewer felt that the poor character of Jacob displayed ALL the possible characteristics of the condition, which is not realistic.  There are two other books written about this topic which are probably better written – The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime by Mark Haddon, and Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Having said all that, there is nothing quite like settling in with a Jodi Picoult novel. You know you are in for the duration and it will be enjoyable!

Scottish Interview with Jodi Picoult