03 October, 2013

Book Review: The Boy Who Fell To Earth

From Goodreads: Meet Merlin. He's Lucy's bright, beautiful son -- who just happens to be autistic. Since Merlin's father left them in the lurch shortly after his diagnosis, Lucy has made Merlin the centre of her world. Struggling with the joys and tribulations of raising her eccentrically adorable yet challenging child, (if only Merlin came with operating instructions) Lucy doesn't have room for any other man in her life.
By the time Merlin turns ten, Lucy is seriously worried that the Pope might start ringing her up for tips on celibacy, so resolves to dip a poorly pedicured toe back into the world of dating. Thanks to Merlin's candour and quirkiness, things don't go quite to plan... Then, just when Lucy's resigned to a life of singledom once more, Archie -- the most imperfectly perfect man for her and her son -- lands on her doorstep. But then, so does Merlin's father, begging for forgiveness and a second chance. Does Lucy need a real father for Merlin -- or a real partner for herself?

Thoughts: I've never been a big fan of Kathy Lette as an author. Apart from Puberty Blues, I have never managed to finish one of her books. I read this on the recommendation of a friend who has a young child with high functioning Autism. I mention this because it did colour the way I read the book.
I don't have a child with special needs. I have taught children with a variety of special needs - either physical, intellectual of behavioural. I have many friends who have children with autism, ranging from you wouldn't know the child had a diagnosis unless you had spent a lot of time with them through to the child who will need care for the rest of his life. I have seen people who react (for want of a better word) to children with special needs in atrocious ways and those who don't react any differently than they do with any other kid. I've dealt with the education system as a teacher, trying to provide the best opportunities and I have heard stories of an education system that want to wash their hands of anything out of the ordinary that make me so angry. I'd like to thinking that I have at least a basic understanding of autism and the challenges faced by families with children with autism, but I know I have no real idea of what it like day to day.
I had some issues with this book. I had some issues with Lucy. I has some issues with Lucy's mother, her mother-in-law, her boyfriend and her ex husband. I had no issues with Merlin. 
My thoughts can best be summed up by another reviewer over on Goodreads, Sam Pope, who has a daughter with Asperger's.

Additionally, if [Lucy] is meant to be portrayed as a sympathetic character, Lette has failed miserably. She talks constantly of how much she loves her son but doesn't properly inform her army of lovers of his difficulties and when he puts his foot in it and talks inappropriately she just feels embarrassed rather than protecting him. I have a child who at times blurts out things that are best left unsaid and try to gently steer her away from a topic of conversation if it is inappropriate. What we see with [Lucy] is her just sitting there and indulging her own embarrassment rather than shielding her son.
 And that was my issue. For all of her talk of love, for all of her trying to get Merlin into a decent educational setting, she never seemed to sooth the way for Merlin in social situations. Even I know you don't take someone to meet someone with Asperger's without first explaining the person's quirks, their lack of filter, their inability to pick up social cues. It astounded me that she continued to have conversations with people within Merlin's hearing, saying things you really don't want repeated (like the fact your MIL is two faced and you wonder which one she will be wearing today), knowing there is a really good chance he WILL repeat it. I was infuriated by Archie's inability to understand that Merlin would take things literally - that if you told him to play in the traffic he would.

And yet, despite all of that, I did enjoy the book.It made me laugh, it made me cry, it made me wince. I do think it gave insight into what life with a child with Asperger's could be like. However I don't think it took any time to celebrate the joy a child with Asperger's can bring as well - and for that it is a poorer book.