A thoughtful, helpful memoir about the challenges and pleasures of living with an autistic child.

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Be Strong, Be Tough, Be Smart

A father’s guide to raising an autistic child.

In this debut—part memoir, part self-help manual—Alfredano chronicles his parenting journey. When his son Denny was first diagnosed with autism in the mid-1980s, there wasn’t very much information available about the disorder, so Alfredano became adept at dealing with his son intuitively. Early on, he found a successful approach: turn Denny’s “defenses” into resources. Like many autistic children, Denny relished routines, so Alfredano tried to make them work to their advantage. For example, Denny loved nature, so one of the author’s first breakthroughs was to regularly take his son for a walk, pointing out the exact same landmarks each time. Learning these individual patterns was crucial to his son’s success, but raising an autistic child wasn’t easy, and the author is honest about the patience and fortitude that was required. Denny went on to do remarkably well academically, even earning a doctorate, but his father is realistic about his son’s limitations: “Denny had triumphed over essentially all of his autistic behaviors and excelled communicatively,” he writes. “And yet at twenty-five years old, he still seemed to have no genuine interest in dating, in nurturing long-term friendships or relationships, or in going out to social gatherings.” A long, final chapter by Denny’s sister, Giada Star, is welcome, as it adds a unique, personal element and provides a very different take on Denny. There are moments when Alfredano’s tone is a bit preachy, as when he repeatedly reminds readers that their children should be their first priority. However, his overall approach is highly engaging and sympathetic. As he shares his story, he’s very open about his own failings, such as focusing too much on Denny’s interests at the expense of other academic topics. His conclusion—that Denny’s success must be taken in stride—gives the book a very human touch.

A thoughtful, helpful memoir about the challenges and pleasures of living with an autistic child.

Pub Date: April 26, 2014

ISBN: 978-1495404399

Page Count: 124

Publisher: CreateSpace

Review Posted Online: June 5, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1, 2014

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A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

THE ESCAPE ARTIST

Fremont (After Long Silence, 1999) continues—and alters—her story of how memories of the Holocaust affected her family.

At the age of 44, the author learned that her father had disowned her, declaring her “predeceased”—or dead in his eyes—in his will. It was his final insult: Her parents had stopped speaking to her after she’d published After Long Silence, which exposed them as Jewish Holocaust survivors who had posed as Catholics in Europe and America in order to hide multilayered secrets. Here, Fremont delves further into her tortured family dynamics and shows how the rift developed. One thread centers on her life after her harrowing childhood: her education at Wellesley and Boston University, the loss of her virginity to a college boyfriend before accepting her lesbianism, her stint with the Peace Corps in Lesotho, and her decades of work as a lawyer in Boston. Another strand involves her fraught relationship with her sister, Lara, and how their difficulties relate to their father, a doctor embittered after years in the Siberian gulag; and their mother, deeply enmeshed with her own sister, Zosia, who had married an Italian count and stayed in Rome to raise a child. Fremont tells these stories with novelistic flair, ending with a surprising theory about why her parents hid their Judaism. Yet she often appears insensitive to the serious problems she says Lara once faced, including suicidal depression. “The whole point of suicide, I thought, was to succeed at it,” she writes. “My sister’s completion rate was pathetic.” Key facts also differ from those in her earlier work. After Long Silence says, for example, that the author grew up “in a small city in the Midwest” while she writes here that she grew up in “upstate New York,” changes Fremont says she made for “consistency” in the new book but that muddy its narrative waters. The discrepancies may not bother readers seeking psychological insights rather than factual accuracy, but others will wonder if this book should have been labeled a fictionalized autobiography rather than a memoir.

A vivid sequel that strains credulity.

Pub Date: Feb. 11, 2020

ISBN: 978-1-982113-60-5

Page Count: 352

Publisher: Gallery Books/Simon & Schuster

Review Posted Online: Oct. 21, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Nov. 15, 2019

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Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

HOW TO RAISE A READER

Savvy counsel and starter lists for fretting parents.

New York Times Book Review editor Paul (My Life With Bob: Flawed Heroine Keeps Book of Books, Plot Ensues, 2017, etc.) and Russo, the children’s book editor for that publication, provide standard-issue but deftly noninvasive strategies for making books and reading integral elements in children’s lives. Some of it is easier said than done, but all is intended to promote “the natural, timeless, time-stopping joys of reading” for pleasure. Mediumwise, print reigns supreme, with mild approval for audio and video books but discouraging words about reading apps and the hazards of children becoming “slaves to the screen.” In a series of chapters keyed to stages of childhood, infancy to the teen years, the authors supplement their advice with short lists of developmentally appropriate titles—by their lights, anyway: Ellen Raskin’s Westing Game on a list for teens?—all kitted out with enticing annotations. The authors enlarge their offerings with thematic lists, from “Books That Made Us Laugh” to “Historical Fiction.” In each set, the authors go for a mix of recent and perennially popular favorites, leaving off mention of publication dates so that hoary classics like Janice May Udry’s A Tree Is Nice seem as fresh as David Wiesner’s Flotsam and Carson Ellis’ Du Iz Tak? and sidestepping controversial titles and themes in the sections for younger and middle-grade readers—with a few exceptions, such as a cautionary note that some grown-ups see “relentless overparenting” in Margaret Wise Brown’s Runaway Bunny. Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House series doesn’t make the cut except for a passing reference to its “troubling treatment of Indians.” The teen lists tend to be edgier, salted with the provocative likes of Art Spiegelman’s Maus and Angie Thomas’ The Hate U Give, and a nod to current demands for more LGBTQ and other #ownvoices books casts at least a glance beyond the mainstream. Yaccarino leads a quartet of illustrators who supplement the occasional book cover thumbnails with vignettes and larger views of children happily absorbed in reading.

Mostly conservative in its stance and choices but common-sensical and current.

Pub Date: Sept. 3, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-5235-0530-2

Page Count: 216

Publisher: Workman

Review Posted Online: July 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2019

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