Category Archives: Book Reviews

The Autism Sisterhood: A Review

The Autism Sisterhood: A (Brief) Manual, by Michele C. Brooke, states on the back: “The Autism Sisterhood is designed to be a starting point. It’s short because I know you don’t have much free time to sit without interruption, and it’s small because I hope that once you’ve read it, you’ll place it in your purse or backpack and pass it along to another mom (or dad) who may need it.”

And that’s exactly what this great little book is. I read it in one sitting and found it to be an easy-to-read primer on lots of different topics especially helpful for parents of younger kids newly diagnosed, including contact information and links to various websites, books, and other helpful resources. Brooke covers the following topics, and many more: books (for kids and parents), music, videos, food, holidays, socializing, shopping, being outdoors, playing, and learning. Each chapter includes “Sisterhood Tips” pertaining to the topic and creative ways to approach every issue.

If you’re looking for a practical, enjoyable book (for yourself or a friend) about starting the journey of having a child on the autism spectrum, be sure to check out The Autism Sisterhood. It’s little, but it’s encouraging, and we could all use more of that!

Cowboy & Wills: A Review

Well, I finally read it – Cowboy & Wills. I’d put it off long enough. Not because I didn’t want to read it, but because I knew it would hit close to home. And some of that stuff is hard to relive. By “stuff,” I mean the younger years – when you can’t leave the house because your child’s sensory issues are so severe. The overwhelming years of constantly going to therapy and doctor appointments and special education team meetings. The difficulty of dealing with ignorant people. It was all there. But there was more “stuff” there that I hadn’t even realized.

Cowboy & Wills, by Monica Holloway, is the touching memoir of a boy with autism and his dog. When Holloway’s son, Wills, is diagnosed with autism, she finds comfort by acquiring various pets – fish, hamsters, hermit crabs, a turtle, a rabbit. I laughed aloud reading her descriptions of their antics! Before long, Wills indicates his desire for a dog, and Holloway starts researching. Cowboy makes her appearance, and the miracles start happening. Wills begins sleeping in his own bed (with Cowboy), becomes more comfortable and sociable at school and with new people, starts swimming in the backyard pool, and even says his first “I love you.” All because of Cowboy. It’s a book that’s both sweet and funny, sad and happy, and all about love and hope.

But for me, it was more than just a good read. It struck a chord with me in a way that I never expected. In a scene when Holloway is taking her son to his first OT appointment, out of the blue he asks her, “What’s wrong with me?” He asks it in the same way and at the same age that my son asked me the exact same question. It threw me back to that heartbreaking moment, back to being shocked that he could formulate the words to ask and trying in a split second to figure out how to answer him. But it was also the moment of my calling – when I first decided that I would write about autism. It was good to be reminded of that.

I cried at the ending, of course, but at some point I realized that I was also crying about something else. It finally dawned on me that I never acknowledged my feelings and my fears all those years ago when my own son was diagnosed. I just accepted it and got down to the business and busyness of pursuing his therapies and just getting through the day. I suppose it was mainly because I also had a second child with special needs and didn’t have the time or energy to pay attention to my own emotions. It’s amazing how you can shove those things down for so long and then they just surface at unexpected times, sometimes years later.  It was definitely something I needed, without even realizing it. A lovely story and on-the-fly therapy – together in one good book!

Slip: An Interview

As some of you already know, Carrie Wilson Link often interviews authors about their books and the personal experiences behind them. She always asks thought-provoking questions that reveal more about the authors than we would otherwise know. As an avid book reader, I’ve always loved her interviews. And I’m thrilled to announce that I am today’s interviewee! Carrie asked some probing questions about Slip, my novel that was recently published, and how my personal experience fits in with both the subject matter and the writing of it. I feel honored to have been interviewed by her, and I invite you to take a look by clicking here. Enjoy! And thank you, Carrie!

Announcing: Slip

Do you remember the first thing you thought you wanted to be when you grew up? When I was four years old I decided that I wanted to be a writer. I could not yet read independently, but I so loved the books that were read to me that I wanted to write my own. I wanted to contribute to the universe of stories that enveloped me, entertained me, influenced me, and later, sustained me. I wanted to create worlds with words. And although I could not verbalize this at age four, I wanted to tap in. I wanted to be a part of the magic.

And so, at age five, I wrote my first book, illustrated it, and “published” it. I took a piece of cardboard from one of my father’s shirt packages and designed and bound my book with a cover. I even gave it a spine (although I didn’t know that’s what it was called). My accomplishment spurred me on, and I wrote more stories, “published” more books. I started a series about a mouse with a puffy hat and her animal friends. In sixth grade I wrote a novella about a mystery in my classroom. One of my friends illustrated it, my mother typed it, and my father took it to his work and had several copies printed and spiral bound. I just loved creating books. I continued to write more stories throughout high school and college, and then I had children and set my fiction writing aside. And although my boys are wonderful beings who completely enhanced my life, there was a hole where my writing had been.

So, five years ago I decided to follow the old adage “write what you know” and wrote a novel about a single parent raising two children, one with autism. It went through many drafts, was edited by a complete stranger who knew nothing about autism, or me, or being a single parent, and went through several more drafts. At no point had I attempted to solicit an agent. It’s not that I have anything against agents or the publishing industry! Definitely not. It’s just that that avenue was not this book’s destiny. This book was to be the culmination of what I dearly loved to do in childhood – write and publish my own books.

I still love to create worlds with words. And now, I’m thrilled to announce that my first novel, Slip, has been published! It’s available to order on Amazon, although they seem to be having trouble keeping it in stock (!) It’s also available directly from my publishing company: http://kovapublishing.com/books/

There’s a quote by James Allen that I read on the back of a Celestial Seasonings tea box years ago: You will always gravitate towards that which you secretly most love. And I’m happy to say that I’m still gravitating, still loving, still writing. I’m still tapping in.

The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide: A Review

You’re probably going to see this often when reading reviews of The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide: Susan Senator has done it again. Her second book is excellent on its own, or as a companion to her first, Making Peace with Autism, which I loved and reviewed.

And I love this one, too. Reading it was like Senator holding my hand, leading me through the process, coaching me. The first chapter is an essential look at perspective and how it shapes our views and emotions. It refers not only to our own perspective, but that of our relatives, friends, and neighbors, and society in general. Senator deftly and graciously addresses the issues of depression and coping with judgment and criticism, and she lists helpful strategies for parents to free themselves of “autism baggage.” What follows is a chapter on the various types of therapy and autism treatment, as well as a discussion about the variance of the spectrum and how the autism community is divided over the cause and cure issues. Senator offers concrete advice for gaining perspective on these issues and choosing therapies for our children.

The bulk of this exceptional book is filled with many personal anecdotes from various autism parents interviewed by Senator while she researched and wrote the book. These parents candidly offered their experiences in different areas, including having fun with their children on the autism spectrum, planning successful trips, taking care of their own needs, focusing on their marriages, and getting help from others. Senator herself contributes many personal examples and advice in these sections, including a lovely description of a trip her family had taken to Colorado, which involved much planning and preparation. Her son, Nat, attended an extreme-sports camp specifically designed for kids with autism while she, her husband, and their two other children explored Colorado. One of my favorite parts of the book was Senator’s beautiful description of coming back to the camp to pick up Nat. “I was ravenous to see Nat again. We all were, but Nat was nowhere in sight. ‘Keep watching the trees,’ a counselor told us. The trees? A few moments later, a rustling sound, and then, suspended on a rope from a zipline, Nat came sailing through the trees with a hardhat on his head and a smile on his face.”

The final chapters of the book cover our children’s growing up years, including the subject of residential placement, and becoming adults, with sections on independence and advocacy. Since my own son is rapidly approaching this point, I found all of the information especially helpful and comforting, coming from someone like Senator, who eloquently describes both the beauty and the difficulty of her experience. She ends The Autism Mom’s Survival Guide with an absolutely brilliant epilogue that I’m not going to give away in this review. You’ll just have to read it for yourself!

Gravity Pulls You In: A Review

I couldn’t wait for Gravity Pulls You In to come out, and not just because I know several of the contributors (although that was part of the reason, of course). It’s because the very idea of this book – a collection of essays and poems written by different parents of very different children on the autism spectrum – is unique and remarkable.

Kyra and Vicki have done an amazing job of editing and sequencing the contributions; the essays and poems flow into one another with the grace and beauty with which they were written. Each piece is an integral part of one of three sections: “Notes from Autism’s Edges,” insightful writings about the experiences of and observations on being the parent of a child with an ASD; “String Theory,” emotional offerings on the connections we have with our children; “And the Shoes Will Take Us There,” inspiring pieces about where we have gone with our children, and how we got there.

They are all beautiful, all universal. I found myself alternately laughing and crying my way through the book, all the while nodding my head. This is quite a journey we share. Our experiences may well be different, but we can identify with all of them. We empathize, we understand. And several times I felt like I was reading about my son, as if I had written it. As if this fellow parent had looked into my memories and said, “Yes, I’ve been there too. You are not alone.”

Gravity Pulls You In is a wonderfully touching anthology that I highly recommend to anyone whose life is affected by autism, whether a parent, relative, friend, neighbor, teacher, or therapist. This book is the parents’ perspective – what we think and believe, how we feel, what we do, and why. I’ve read many autism-related books over the years since my son’s diagnosis. Almost all of them I enjoyed, but only a few found a permanent home on my bookshelves. The rest have been given away to others who might also enjoy them or learn from them. But not Gravity Pulls You In. It’s staying right here. It’s that beautiful.

Look Me in the Eye: A Review

I realized recently that I hadn’t done a book review in a long time, and since last week I had the privilege of meeting and talking with John Elder Robison, I decided to write a review of Look Me in the Eye.

The quote across the top of the cover (actually, the boy’s forehead) says it all: “Endearing . . . Robison is a natural storyteller.” And that is exactly what’s so enjoyable about this book – his stories are captivating and entertaining. I loved reading about stories ranging from tricks he had played on a teacher who was mean to him and how he raised the money to do so, to how he got started restoring cars and taking radios apart, to how he got interested in guitars and amps and began working on them, which eventually led to his work with KISS. He tells stories about how he met his first girlfriend, how he interacted with his brother while growing up, and dealing with unstable parents. Reflected in all of his stories is a sense of empathy and his longing to connect with others and relate to them.

My favorite parts of the book include the chapter describing what it was like for him to be at a huge KISS concert, observing the magic of the lighting system that he designed and built. It’s an incredible passage written with details that made me feel like I was there, experiencing it. Definitely a must-read, along with the empowering chapter in which he figures out the cause of a major problem in one of the electronic toys manufactured by Milton Bradley. I also enjoyed the chapter which features Robison’s analysis of his process to develop socially and emotionally. His insight is remarkable, and anyone – parents of ASD children or not – reading his book has much to gain from it. I especially appreciate how he pointed out that child psychologists who observed “John prefers to play by himself” were completely wrong. The fact was that he did not know how to play and connect with others, not that he didn’t want to. It’s something that my son also struggled with, and continues to.

I loved reading about how Robison interacts with and teaches his son, the bond they share, and how he made peace with his parents later in life. The myth that people on the autism spectrum are not emotional is completely blown out of the water with this book. In the Postscript included in the paperback edition, Robison concludes with a plea: “I may look and act pretty strange at times, but deep down I just want to be loved and understood for who and what I am. I want to be accepted as part of society, not an outcast or outsider . . . I wish for empathy and compassion from those around me . . . I hope you’ll keep these thoughts in mind the next time you meet someone who looks or acts a little strange.” I will indeed. In fact, I already have. Look Me in the Eye is a fascinating story of life with Asperger’s – and being human. I highly recommend it.

Tilt: A Review

To say that Tilt is an engaging novel would be an understatement. This is a clear-your-schedule-so-you-can-read-it-in-one-sitting book. First-time novelist Elizabeth Burns displays her talent as an award-winning poet, creating simply stunning metaphors and lyrical prose with intricately woven images. Writing in the present tense, Burns imparts a sense of urgency that is central to the movement of the story. And what a story it is.

We readers are initially jostled between a background of Bridget, the main character, and her new home in Minnesota (where she moved from New York), a description of her parents, scenes from her first marriage, and finding out that her beloved cousin has breast cancer. We then briefly learn of Bridget’s father’s death and meet her two daughters, one of whom is autistic. The stage is set.

Burns then deftly takes us back to when Bridget met her second husband, a successful sculptor, who is the father of her children. We glimpse evocative earlier scenes of Bridget’s cousin and her father. Burns’ bouncing back-and-forth between past and present may be off-putting to some readers, but her technique only serves to build towards the upcoming chaos that will surround Bridget’s life.  Burns describes the whirlpool of anxiety as Bridget comes to terms with her daughter’s diagnosis at the time that her younger daughter is born. Her cousin dies. Bridget’s husband’s bipolar disorder becomes unmanageable and he must be hospitalized. Upon his release, she receives the news that her father has stage four cancer.

But the best part about Bridget’s character is that she’s not perfect. She may be strong, but she’s human. Her cool wit is juxtaposed with her vulnerable soul, and even with all the humor she injects into her life, she breaks. We see her naked fears and her feel her pain. But through it all runs the current of her dreams, and her determination. She learns that reaching out for help – from her support group, her therapist, and even her emotionally distant mother – is the only way to cope. Her endurance, her outlook, and her spirit are uplifting and inspiring. Tilt is one of those books that will stay with you long after you finish it.

The Mind Tree: A Review

The Mind TreeThis astounding book was written by Tito Rajarshi Mukhopadhyay, a non-verbal autistic boy whose mother taught him to write at the age of five. He wrote The Mind Tree between the ages of eight and eleven, and it is nothing short of amazing.

The first half of the book is a detailed autobiographical account from age two to eleven. Tito writes in the first person point of view, but uses the third person when referring to his younger self (for instance, “It was a worse show when he was three and a half years old.”) He also describes the thoughts and feelings of his parents in many situations, exhibiting a surprisingly advanced theory of mind. One of the delights of this book is Tito’s insight and his ability to explain some of his autistic behavior, such as analyzing why he spins. He says that his body felt “scattered and it was difficult to collect it together. He saw himself as a hand or as a leg and would turn himself around to assemble his parts to a whole.” And “He got the idea of spinning from the fan as he saw that its blades were otherwise separate joined together to a complete circle, when they turned in speed.” Tito also describes the “distorted . . . meaningless babblings” that he made, and suggests to “guardians” of other autistics that they discourage those sounds, claiming, “Being mute is better than distortion.” Later, he tells about how his mother helped him to “find” his voice by physically forcing it out of him via pushing on his back as he attempted to verbalize sounds. I found all of Tito’s detailed descriptions of his childhood to be intensely fascinating.

Equally wonderful are the remaining parts of the book, including a section of essays written about his interpretations of color and how they manifest themselves in his autistic mind. Tito also writes beautifully crafted, evocative poetry, such as “All the world was a busy place, And I was an idle kind, Disqualified in the human race, A different form of mind.” We readers are also treated to the lovely imagery of his short story called “The Mind Tree,” which is a touching tale told from the point of view of a tree.  Tito is truly a gifted writer.

This book is quite a find. I stumbled upon it in a bookstore a few years ago, and I am drawn in each time I read it. Tito’s message of hope is evident in every word he writes, but especially in the ending to his first biographical section, which he wrote at age eight: “One day I dream that we can grow in a matured society where nobody would be ‘normal or abnormal’ but just human beings, accepting any other human being – ready to grow together.” His words certainly prove the maxim that not being able to talk does not mean the same as not having anything to say.

The Dragons of Autism: A Review

The Dragons of Autism 

The subtitle of this insightful yet practical book is “Autism as a Source of Wisdom,” and author Olga Holland offers that and more. Many autism-parent memoirs are beautifully thought-provoking, and enjoyable to read, but don’t present much in the hands-on, getting-through-the-day department. The Dragons of Autism eloquently and effectively addresses both of these areas.

Holland possesses an analytical mind which enables her to invent and apply various approaches to managing her son’s behavior and helping him adapt to situations that aggravate his sensory issues. She is no stranger to meltdowns (called tantrums in the book), having dealt with her son’s episodes that occurred several times a day. A large portion of the book is devoted to damage control strategies as well as possible prevention techniques. She discusses the technique of Buying Time as a long-term method of re-training problematic behavior or enforcing house rules (such as bedtime). Holland goes on to describe the importance of schedules and having rituals to enforce them. She empathizes that yes, it is time-consuming for parents of autistic children to organize and maintain a schedule in written form, but she advises, “Look at it as a craft – a part of the craft of raising an autistic child.” I think that’s the perfect way to describe it – a craft that we become better at as the years go by.

Holland includes plenty of descriptions of her son’s characteristics and behavior, and I found it both engaging and affirming to recognize so many of them in my own son, as I’m sure many parents would. This book is helpful not only for parents of younger autistic children looking for ways to manage meltdowns/tantrums, but also for parents of older autistic children. Most of us still have to deal with meltdowns, even though now they may occur for different reasons than when our children were younger. Holland provides effective strategies using empathy and creativity that are both helpful and humane. I’ve referred back to this book many times in the five years that I’ve owned it, and will continue to. It’s a good read.