DELIGHTFULLY DIFFERENT

A family copes with a daughter’s quirks in Walker’s fanciful, heartwarming tale of Asperger’s syndrome.

Like any new parents, Ben Long, a successful Hawaiian pediatrician, and his wife Francesca have high hopes for their first child. Their baby Mia has high hopes for them, too: as a yet-to-be-born spirit in heaven, she noticed Francesca’s kindness and patience and picked her out as her future mom. Mia relies on Francesca’s nurturing qualities because she will be born with Asperger’s syndrome, a mild, often undiagnosed variant of autism. Her parents find her to be a bright, precocious, musical child, but also shy, socially awkward, frightened by new situations and beset with food phobias. What seems to others to be mere eccentricity and cussedness is to Mia a rational response to her unusual cognitive traits. Mia is abnormally sensitive to stimuli: loud voices and bright lights hurt her ears and eyes, new clothes feel like sandpaper, perfume smells like tear gas. While she shrinks from these sensory assaults, her literal-mindedness makes her prone to obsessive anxieties: a news story about tainted hamburger leads to an epic school lunch-room battle and a bird’s nest collected by her grandmother strikes her as a nightmarish tangle of filth and decay. The author sets Mia’s first-person narrative within a larger family story told from Francesca’s point of view as she grapples with Ben’s exasperation over Mia’s problems, tussles with her difficult Chinese-American mother-in-law and weathers the heartache of her parents’ deaths. Writing with a limpid prose style deftly infused with medical research, Walker does a remarkable job illuminating Mia’s offbeat perspective from within; she makes it more a personality than an affliction. The book’s advocacy impulses occasionally overheat, as when Francesca goes ballistic over an incident in which mean girls tease Mia at school. Still, through Mia’s story, Walker dispels much of the mystery of Asperger’s kids while revealing the richness and promise of their lives. A poignant and enlightening coming-of-age saga.

 

Pub Date: Nov. 8, 2010

ISBN: 978-1450260510

Page Count: 156

Publisher: iUniverse

Review Posted Online: Feb. 1, 2011

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A LITTLE LIFE

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

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Four men who meet as college roommates move to New York and spend the next three decades gaining renown in their professions—as an architect, painter, actor and lawyer—and struggling with demons in their intertwined personal lives.

Yanagihara (The People in the Trees, 2013) takes the still-bold leap of writing about characters who don’t share her background; in addition to being male, JB is African-American, Malcolm has a black father and white mother, Willem is white, and “Jude’s race was undetermined”—deserted at birth, he was raised in a monastery and had an unspeakably traumatic childhood that’s revealed slowly over the course of the book. Two of them are gay, one straight and one bisexual. There isn’t a single significant female character, and for a long novel, there isn’t much plot. There aren’t even many markers of what’s happening in the outside world; Jude moves to a loft in SoHo as a young man, but we don’t see the neighborhood change from gritty artists’ enclave to glitzy tourist destination. What we get instead is an intensely interior look at the friends’ psyches and relationships, and it’s utterly enthralling. The four men think about work and creativity and success and failure; they cook for each other, compete with each other and jostle for each other’s affection. JB bases his entire artistic career on painting portraits of his friends, while Malcolm takes care of them by designing their apartments and houses. When Jude, as an adult, is adopted by his favorite Harvard law professor, his friends join him for Thanksgiving in Cambridge every year. And when Willem becomes a movie star, they all bask in his glow. Eventually, the tone darkens and the story narrows to focus on Jude as the pain of his past cuts deep into his carefully constructed life.  

The phrase “tour de force” could have been invented for this audacious novel.

Pub Date: March 10, 2015

ISBN: 978-0-385-53925-8

Page Count: 720

Publisher: Doubleday

Review Posted Online: Dec. 21, 2014

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Jan. 1, 2015

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THE CATCHER IN THE RYE

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

A violent surfacing of adolescence (which has little in common with Tarkington's earlier, broadly comic, Seventeen) has a compulsive impact.

"Nobody big except me" is the dream world of Holden Caulfield and his first person story is down to the basic, drab English of the pre-collegiate. For Holden is now being bounced from fancy prep, and, after a vicious evening with hall- and roommates, heads for New York to try to keep his latest failure from his parents. He tries to have a wild evening (all he does is pay the check), is terrorized by the hotel elevator man and his on-call whore, has a date with a girl he likes—and hates, sees his 10 year old sister, Phoebe. He also visits a sympathetic English teacher after trying on a drunken session, and when he keeps his date with Phoebe, who turns up with her suitcase to join him on his flight, he heads home to a hospital siege. This is tender and true, and impossible, in its picture of the old hells of young boys, the lonesomeness and tentative attempts to be mature and secure, the awful block between youth and being grown-up, the fright and sickness that humans and their behavior cause the challenging, the dramatization of the big bang. It is a sorry little worm's view of the off-beat of adult pressure, of contemporary strictures and conformity, of sentiment….

A strict report, worthy of sympathy.

Pub Date: June 15, 1951

ISBN: 0316769177

Page Count: -

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Nov. 2, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1951

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