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Book Review of: Strange Son

Two Mothers, Two Sons, and the Quest to Unlock

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Review of Strange Son, by Portia Iverson (Hardcover, 2007)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

I enjoyed reading this book. Because I lack the background to evaluate its content in a technical sense, I thought I should read other reviews before writing my own. What I found were extreme opinions, rather than a range of opinions. People either loved this book, or they hated it. The reasons for this dichotomy are clear to me, and my sharing those reasons will help you understand what this book has to offer and help you make sense of those other reviews.

After some reflection, I decided not to evaluate the content on its technical merits. I don't have the background to do so, could not easily find reliable information on which to baseuseful comments, and don't see this book as a technical work. It's really a story of parental love and devotion. If Iverson made technical errors, some subject matter expert somewhere may point them out. Given her immersion in the subject of autism, I suspect those errors would be of minor import if they exist. Given the many conflicting "expert" opinions on autism, I'm not sure anyone is qualified to say what is correct and what is not.

What I liked most

In this book, a mother overcomes incredible barriers to make "impossible" breakthroughs for her child. The story of Soma, who traveled halfway around the world with her autistic son Tito, is touching. Soma, in turn, provided something the author needed in her quest for her own son. And, yes, you can take two meanings from that vague wording. Iverson made a quest on behalf of her son. She also made a quest to find him--a son previously lost behind the shroud of autism.

The classic "hero against impossible odds" story dominates our fiction. It's nice to see that someone can do it in real life, as well.

What I liked least

While Iverson handles the English language better than most writers today, her writing often came across as more than a little subjective and occasionally self-aggrandizing.

Some have described her writing as "self serving," but that description has a connotation that doesn't fit the facts. I think people used that wording because of the "cliché speak" that commonly substitutes for proper word choices today. What they probably meant was "self-aggrandizing."

Iverson often seemed to draw out and highlight the weaknesses and imperfections of other people, while playing down their accomplishments. But she seemed to take the opposite approach when relaying information about herself. Many readers took umbrage at this, zeroed in on it, and wrote negative reviews.

Comment on other reviews

Every negative review I read concerned itself with instances of self-aggrandizement (intended or otherwise), to the exclusion of the rest of the book. This imbalanced coverage of the book reduced those reviews to single-issue emotional reactions, rather than thoughtful reviews.

Let's view the author's writing in the proper perspective. Of course she's going to be impassioned, and of course she's going to present her own viewpoint. Portia Iverson is not a disinterested third party writing a book at arm's length. She is the mother of an autistic child. She's up close and personal with autism, and it dominates her stressful life.

When we're under stress we tend not to see the actions of everyone around us through rose-tinted glasses. The fact that Iverson can attribute that stress to her child's condition and not the child is laudatory. She and Jon are still married, and that is an accomplishment in itself. I've seen couples break up over far less. Check out the divorce rate among couples where one spouse is in graduate school, for example. Graduate school is a pressure-cooker, but it's apparently a cakewalk compared to rearing an autistic child.

Exclusion

I don't know any autistic people. But I do know that autistics are excluded from life in general.

Exclusion is something we are all familiar with, to some extent. I think most of us can name a group or club in which we don't feel welcome. Those who can't do so are socially tone-deaf, because none of us fit everywhere. Normally, these types of exclusions are due to our being different in some way from the group. We don't fit that group, and so are excluded. Most of these differences are superficial, and the social choices are arbitrary. Nothing stops us from finding a group in which we do fit, and with which we can interact and feel included. All we have to do is look around, and we can find that group.

Autistics don't have that choice. In the case of autistic people, the exclusion is inherent and profound. It doesn't result from the social choices of others. It results from "built-in" limitations that make it nearly impossible for the autistic person to communicate, interact, and connect in any way. Iverson provides a good education for the autism-illiterate, like me, to get some insight into how tragic this condition really is.

Accomplishment

What this book really accomplishes is it raises awareness of autism and the challenges autism brings. You have to remember that autistic people used to be labeled "retards" and the "experts" did nothing more than treat them like vegetables. Anybody remember the movie "Rain Man," starring Dustin Hoffman? This movie helped many people realize that intelligence may not always be obvious. Strange Son does that, as well.

I don't see that this book has an agenda, other than raising the awareness of autism and promoting CAN (the Cure Autism Now Foundation). CAN helps parents of autistic children find their child, who would otherwise be lost behind a thick veil of autism. And, it does far more than that.

Since nobody I know has autism, this book doesn't touch me on the same level as it would touch someone who has an autistic child or sibling. But it does help me see outside my own worldview and appreciate struggles I honestly did not know other people have.

 

 

 

About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

The reviews I do will, contrary to emerging trends, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or not substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably another 6,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree undergrad and an MBA. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read to begin with.

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