Todd’s Review of Hope by Victoria Ferrante

Although I’m not usually one to harp on a book’s cover (insert obligatory joke about judging a book by its cover), this one definitely caught my eye.  The tortured soul on the front cover of this book made me pause and wonder what would cause such pain.  I knew the book was about Autism, but I know that the spectrum of this disorder is so varied that I really had no idea what I was in for.  So, with so many looming questions, I decided to get right to it and dive in to the book!

Ferrante tells the story of Christina Borysowki, a woman from the Midwest who gives birth to a daughter with autism spectrum disorder in the early 1990’s.  Originally, Christina is overjoyed at her daughter’s birth and feels an incredible bond with her daughter, who has beautiful blue eyes and a bubbly disposition.  Over time, however, things begin to change.  Her daughter, optimistically named Hope, begins to become withdrawn.  She does not respond to her name, or any normal stimulus that children her age react to.  Her now gray eyes seem to have lost their sparkle, and Hope looks out with empty, emotionless eyes at the world.  Although most of her family and friends dismiss the idea that anything is seriously wrong with Hope, Christina eventually brings her to numerous doctors, eventually gaining a diagnosis of autism, a relatively new and unheard of disorder at the time.  Christina’s life then becomes a whirlwind of doctor’s meetings, questions, medications, and more, as she tries to give Hope the best life she can muster given the circumstances.  Although she often feels overwhelmed, Christina is motivated by a desire to find the passion that she knows is hidden in her daughter’s mysterious and ever-changing personality.  All this changes, however, at the dramatic twist at the end of the novel that no one sees coming.

As a disclaimer, I had a very hard time deciding what to write for this review.  I too have experience with a disabled family member, as my twin brother Dan has Cerebral Palsy and is a quadriplegic due to CP and other additional factors.  It is because of this fact that I viewed this book differently than someone who may not have a person in his/her life that is disabled.  I give Ferrante a lot of credit for writing this work; I understand that she has a child who is profoundly autistic herself and therefore may have used the writing of this story as a type of therapy or vehicle in which to create a story similar to her own.  These things are really important, as a support structure is vital to the family of someone with a disability as it helps them during the inevitable hard times.  The thing I took issue with, however, was the overall tone of the book.  I understand that Christina would be incredibly frustrated and alienated at times with having to deal with this disorder day in and day out.  It was the high amount of negativity that struck me, however, and made it harder to read as time went on.  Yes, I know that there were moments of brevity and connection between Christina and Hope, but they were few and far between.  Perhaps that was the point, that it’s not easy at all to have a profoundly autistic daughter.  And I would assume it is, although I have no direct experience in the matter.  I do, however, have direct experience with a brother that can’t do many of the things (both physically and mentally) that we take for granted.  And because of this, I know that it’s very, very important to focus on the positives.  It’s easy to question everything and get caught up in the negative, but it’s not the right way.  Every day is a gift, and we need to be reminded of this.  To majorly focus on the bad things and keep the plot development on a downward spiral was not helping.  I think the material may be there, but the focus of the work needed some tweaking.  I do applaud Ferrante for her honesty and ability to show us all the daily battles that go in to caring for someone with this type of autism through Christina’s story.  It can’t be easy and her writing definitely showed that.  I perhaps was just too emotionally invested in this type of story that I couldn’t give it an appropriate rating.

Hope by Victoria Ferrante
iUniverse Incorporated (2011)
Paperback: 232 pages
ISBN: 9781462062362

Special thanks to Author Solutions for my review copy!

#82 A Review of Look Me In the Eye by John Elder Robison

Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger'sAs a fan of author Augusten Burroughs’ memoir Running with Scissors, I’ve always had a fascination with learning more about him and his odd upbringing.  In Running with Scissors he discusses his older brother who was a bit of an oddity as a child.  Later in life it’s discovered that his brother, John Elder, has a form of autism better known as Asperger’s.  Look Me In the Eye is John Elder’s memoir about his life with this disease and how he overcame its limitations to find success in life.

Growing up in a childhood that would barely be considered habitable by most standards, John Elder Robinson traveled through childhood with a feeling of detachment and awkwardness.  For all he knew, he just wanted to make the other kids like him.  Unfortunately for him, however, the things that thought were completely acceptable happened to make the other kids view him as strange and awkward.  Not letting this deter him, Robinson attempted to learn to change his behavior to suit his environment and view his social experiences objectively.  These same analytical skills served him well later on in his life, as Robinson developed an aptitude for all things mechanical and eventually went on to design famous flaming guitars for KISS.  After being diagnosed with Asperger’s at 40, Robinson looks back at his life with a new perspective and new insight into his life.

As someone who has grown up with a learning disability, I can relate to Robison’s depiction of society and their views on individuals that are different from the “mainstream”.  When I was a child, I found that at times I felt like I needed to respond to the social clues around me instead of instinctively being able to mesh with my peers.  Additionally, I was amazed by the fantastic amount of emotion that Robison was able to convey in his writing, all with a diagnosis that apparently prevents him from being able to do just that.  His descriptions of his despair, anger, and longing as a child, his pride and joy in succeeding in his professional life, and especially his amazement at finding love and beginning a family were all fantastic to read.  It’s not that people with Asperger’s are incapable of feeling; the lack of the ability to express these emotions doesn’t mean that they don’t feel each and every one of them.  Robison’s ability to tell us what he felt in all of these particular situations in amazing detail is testament to his awesome talents as a writer and the wonderful life he has lived thus far.

The book is fabulously written, giving readers an insight into what it’s like for someone with Asperger’s.  If you know someone who suffers from a form of autism I highly suggest giving this book a read; it might help you to understand what it’s like inside their mind, offering up a stronger relationship between you.

(Blogger Note: If Robison is ever doing a book signing or speaking engagement near you I HIGHLY recommend you go see him.  I had the opportunity of seeing him speak and meeting him afterward at R.J. Julia in Madison, CT.  He is one of the most interesting people I’ve ever heard speak before.  Not only is he fascinating to listen to, but he is so kind and genuine.)

5 out of 5 Stars

Look Me In The Eye by John Elder Robison
Crown Publishing Group (2008)
Paperback 320 pages
ISBN: 9780307396181