Two young parents struggle while raising an autistic child in this frank and candid look at the disorder.
Andrew suffers through severe anxiety brought on by the loneliness of being a stay-at-home dad; he cares for daughter Eileen and troubled son Nathan while wife Erica works nights and pursues her bachelor’s degree. The last straw comes when Nathan is diagnosed with autism and the shock of learning that their normal life is anything but what it appears quickly tears the young couple apart. Andrew and Erica are not always the most sympathetic protagonists, a fact that only makes them more believable and fully realized as characters. Both have deep, fleshed-out back stories that are introduced organically throughout the plot, giving the reader a welcome insight into the decisions they make and the sometimes harsh manner in which they treat each other. Though our time spent with them as a cohesive, happily married couple is short and already mired in hardship, it is genuinely heartbreaking to watch their marriage fall apart. Their reaction to their son’s diagnosis and the way in which they cope with his disorder feels realistic. Nathan isn’t presented as the traditional stereotype of a child with autism; Savko’s portrayal of him is sweetly nuanced, in a way that those who have experienced the trials of the disorder firsthand will appreciate. And the book’s ironic contrast of two people who are terrible at communicating trying to socialize an autistic child makes for a compelling, emotional tale. Dialogue between characters is at times rigid and perfunctory, surprising in what is an otherwise highly readable novel. The included “Reader’s Guide” feels unnecessary—the questions raised are unnecessary as the themes they draw attention to are well-represented within the text.
Savako’s debut is an engaging read with an honest approach to difficult subject matter.