Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Great Summer Reading: Eye Contact

I have been on a "good book roll" of late, with the exception of Prep, by Curtis Sittenfield, which I put down and went back to later. For some reason, I was determined to finish it. It wasn't bad, really, but the characters were annoying, pathetic, and shallow, and there wasn't much of a plot.

When I'm reading a great book, I wonder why I waste my time occasionally on books that are not either well written or enjoyable. But back to my book recommendation: Eye Contact by Cammie McGovern.

It's about a 9-year-old autistic boy, Adam, who goes into the woods near the school playground with a female classmate. Later, her body is discovered, along with a traumatized Adam. As the book progresses, Adam's mother and others try to pull the story of what happened from Adam's mind. Along the way, Adam's mother (Cara) has to face difficult choices that she has made along the way, and the way she has treated others. Another prominent character is a boy in a nearby middle school who has unidentified developmental issues of his own.

Many of the characters in the novel are affected by the autism spectrum or other developmental issues. The author's oldest child is autistic, so she has an in-depth understanding of the mother's perspective.

I found this novel to be compelling, well written, and disturbing. Whatever her faults, Cara is a dedicated mom who loves her son intensely, in spite of the hardships associated with raising him. What was most disturbing about this novel was to be reminded of the way children (or adults) treat others who are different in some way.

One of my big fears about middle school for my oldest son is the possibility of bullying. He's already been the victim of some minor bullying in the early grades, but fortunately he attends a school that tries to nip that kind of thing in the bud. I was bullied in junior high and miserable as a result. It's amazing that I emerged from it with my self-esteem intact. In those days, I just endured it until we grew older and they lost interest in me. Now I often wonder where they are in the world and what they are doing, and I imagine that they are very unhappy, unfulfilled people. Do they have regrets for the way they treated me? Or are they continuing to be mean and disrespectful to others?

My greatest challenge is this: to do what I ask other people to do when they get to know my quirky son (to love him for who he is, in spite of his being different or having sometimes-annoying behaviors). I am challenged to look beyond other children's bullying or mean behaviors, accept them for who they are, and forgive them for how they treat others. This indeed is a hard one for me.

You are mean to my son? You don't appreciate him for who he is? Stay out of my way! :)

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