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.