Tuesday, January 19, 2016

Love, Anthony, Lisa Genova

So this 2016 reading challenge thing is really fun....but so far, I've picked books I've already wanted to read and made them fit into the list....hehe.....

I've had this one on my radar and saw it was "checked in" at the library so I grabbed it. I thought I'd have to pass it off as the "book from the library" but guess what? Nope! This little gem takes place on and island. That's right, Nantucket island.

Anywho, I really enjoyed this book.

There were some believability aspects that were hard to swallow, which is why it's not up to 5 stars, and I'm sure that if the two main protagonists, Olivia (mother of Anthony who was born with autism) and Beth (author of Anthony's thoughts and insights for her novel) had met up earlier in the story and collaborated rather than it being a seemingly coincidental or divine interventional. But it didn't bother me enough to knock it more than one star. Mostly because I felt that it would be nit-picky beyond the scope of the author's intentions to help us, the readers, to better understand what might be going on inside the mind of a person who has autism.

There are two very different story lines going on, first is Beth, who finds out that her husband cheated on her for a prolonged period of time. She's a Nantucket transplant and has a group of tight knit friends who are an amazing support to her, offering great advice, but refusing to make decisions for her. She is the mother of 3 girls.

The other character is Olivia. You get to hear her story in the present, as she has recently separated from her husband following the death of her non-verbal autistic son, Anthony. She ends up on Nantucket because she and her husband own an investment property there and she needed time away from all the things that reminded her of her son. We get perspective of her from her reading previous journal entries of her life. It is raw and emotional. It feels real because I've experienced similar emotions to other things that are out of my control in life, though on a MUCH smaller scale. While the other books of Genova's that I've read, the couple stays together through harsh trials, Olivia and her husband, David, get a divorce after the separation. This makes things very real because it's become pretty common knowledge that parents of autistic children are much more likely to divorce than parents of non-autistic children, even when you factor in other conditions like Down's Syndrome. I kept hoping that maybe they'd get back together and heal together, but that was just too much fairy tale wishing.

Beth also becomes estranged from her husband after she asks him to leave following receiving a card in the mail from his mistress informing her of the affair. Beth spends most of the novel trying to decide if she wants to be divorced or if she is able to offer forgiveness. Her journey, while I hope I never have to experience it, has the ups and downs, and all sorts of pro/con list type thoughts that I would probably have myself. In part of this time of separation, she re-discovers her love of writing and finds inspiration in some of her previous short works when she saw an autistic boy lining up rocks on the beach. So she decides to write about what it's like to be inside his head.

This part is brilliant. I feel like I can make better decisions when approaching people who think differently. While no two cases of autism are the same, I really appreciated her imagery of how many people with autism need to compartmentalize and how it happens for them: rooms and hallways. If they are in the Counting Room, they cannot hear what you are saying because in order to hear you, then need to leave the Counting Room and go to the Ears Room, and it's not as enjoyable as the Counting Room. And if you touch them, they are all of a sudden thrust into the Hands Room (physical touch) and they don't like being yanked from one room to the other. In between rooms are hallways and sometimes they get stuck there and they don't like to be stuck there and there is a Horror Room where anytime things get to be too much, that's where their brain sends them. There are also Rules that a person with autism really likes. It will be different for all of them, but they all appreciate hard and fast rules "Always Rules" rather than Depends Upon Rules. For instance, Anthony says that he used to think that light switches were Always Rules because up was always on and down was always off, but then there was a power outage and the Rule changed. One time his mom didn't follow routine of going straight home from playground and he KNEW they were NOT going home, because the way home was a certain way and that wasn't the way they were going. So it caused a meltdown. Later he muses that maybe there is more than one way to get home. Maybe there are 2 ways. But if there are 2 ways, there might be MORE ways and he just doesn't even know how to cope with that. He also has a love of 3. He always has 3 french toast sticks for breakfast, but one day there are only 2 and no more in the box in the freezer. His mom tries to fix it by breaking one in half, but that makes it worse because they are not 3 of the SAME. There is 1 big and 2 medium. He wishes he could talk, to tell his mom that it can be fixed if she cut the big one to be medium and threw the rest away, or made them all a different length, but he can't. He doesn't think his brain is broken, but his throat or tongue or voice, because he thinks just fine, he just can't verbalize.

I love the part when Olivia talks about perceptions. Why does she need to make Anthony fit this mold of what they think he should love and do? Why can't they accept that he loves something and let him love it (like Barney, way past the appropriate age for it)? She reasons if someone forced her to give up something she loved and make her do something else, she wouldn't be very happy or herself. She struggles with knowing if Anthony felt loved; but she struggled because she felt that in order for him to feel loved, she needed to do certain things that he didn't like: hugs, kisses, eye contact, words. But in actuality, allowing him to be who he was and participating in his love of things like lining up white rocks or staring at a blue sky were ways of expressing love that he both understood and accepted. Kind of like the "Love Languages" but for the autistic. It was very eye opening.

I feel like I'm already an accepting person, but sometimes I'm unsure if I'm coming across the way I want to. I don't want to be like what Auggie in "Wonder" described as "overly nice", but I don't want to come across as insensitive if I pretend that nothing is different and treat them like everyone else when maybe you do need to at least acknowledge so it's not "pretending" but "seeing and not having it affect how you see the actual person" if that makes sense. So I hope that I don't stare or look like I'm judging, or look away too soon. I hope that I can use some of my new perspective in helping my children understand and treat others appropriately.

Because in the end, this book wasn't just about autism or the people whose lives are affected by it, but about love. Love in general, and how to love. How to be unconditional about it in all aspects of our lives, because by human nature, we love conditionally. It's not at Always Rule. When maybe it should be. Now, loving doesn't mean you have to always agree or even trust someone with your life. You can have a love and reverence for human life and fellow man in general. We can love enough to give people second chances and to allow for mistakes and irritations and them not showing us love in the way we want them to. We can love someone even when they hurt us-intentional or not, and then rationally determine whether or not this love can extend to them being a part of our lives still or not. And in return, we can accept others offerings of love toward us, even if it's in a way that we normally wouldn't think of as love. We can choose to accept that maybe love is shown by scraping your icy windshield instead of diamonds, or maybe love is cooking dinner every night instead of sex every night. Love is SO MUCH MORE than we allow ourselves to see. I am committed to seeing the acts of love given to me every day by my family, because those acts of love, I'm convinced, are more common place and take the shape and form of every day occurrences that I've taken for granted. Thank you, Anthony, for opening my eyes to so very many things.

*I now cannot wait to read Carly's Voice since it is both non-fiction and current http://carlysvoice.com/

Another I have on my to-read list is "The Way I See It" by Temple Grandin

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