The author of Dying Young (1989) tells the story of a young mother with an autistic son.
Melanie Marsh, an American living in London, has a daughter named Emily, a sweet little girl with blonde curls who chatters exuberantly and loves to paint. She also has Daniel. Daniel isn’t normal. He cries a lot—wildly, and for no apparent reason. He hurts himself. He rejects affection from both his parents, and he refuses to play. And even though he is almost three, he doesn’t talk. When she and her husband, Stephen, learn that Daniel is autistic, her fear is compounded by guilt and confusion: “He’s always been like this . . . a diagnosis, a label such as autism, does not change the child. And yet . . . I cannot help feeling as though I started the journey this morning with my beloved little boy and am returning with a slightly alien, educable time bomb.” And, of course, the diagnosis does change everything. Melanie acquiesces to her husband’s insistence that four-year-old Emily start school. Stephen leaves for a business trip and doesn’t come home. And although she tries to be there for her daughter, Melanie’s desire to teach Daniel to talk quickly supersedes everything else in her life. Fed up with specialists from National Health Service and immune to Stephen’s suggestion that they institutionalize Daniel, Melanie turns to therapist Andy O’Connor for help. Andy not only coaxes words—sentences, even—from Daniel, but he also reminds Melanie to care for her own needs as well as those of her children. Melanie is a smart woman and an engaging protagonist. Her reaction to Daniel’s condition is both intellectual and emotional. She studies, she does research, she sobs until blood vessels break in her face. Her narration is frank and unapologetic, infused with a well-deserved crankiness that occasionally erupts in surprising flashes of humor.
A skillfully crafted and bracingly unsentimental look at one mother’s love—sometimes tender, sometimes frantic, always fierce—in the face of adversity.