Friday, September 18, 2009

Book Review--The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal

The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal The Short Bus: A Journey Beyond Normal by Jonathan Mooney

My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Jonathan Mooney, diagnosed dyslexic and ADD, after graduating from Brown University with honors and cowriting a book about his personal journey, decided to embark on another journey in a vehicle symbolic of all that's labeled outside of "normal." Short buses historically (and sometimes currently) transported students who were labeled with disabilities. Mooney's adventure takes him to meet all sorts of unusual people, most of whom were labeled with disabilities somewhere along the way.

He meets others of all ages with ADD and LD--some friends, some acquaintances, and some strangers, joins up with his sister and girlfriend (who he proposes to during the journey) among others, meets a blind-deaf girl who swears in sign language, gets to know a young adult woman with Down Syndrome who is far more normal than he had expected, meets a transgendered individual with a different type of reality in Kennebunkport, Maine, attends "Burning Man" in Nevada, gets to know an alienated 15-year-old named Miles Davis, meets a middle-aged man named Jeff who appears to have Asperger's or autistic tendencies, and reconnects with his extremely conservative and eccentric priest uncle.

Although he graduated from an Ivy League school (as he is obviously proud of, since he mentions it several times), Mooney still struggles with a lot of anger and identity issues. The short bus journey is his attempt to exercise those demons. Although he seems to want to embrace others who have been labeled with disabilities, he also sets himself apart and honestly talks about his discomfort with some of them. He seems to feel energized and redeemed by the whole experience in the end.

Mooney combined his adventure tales with historical facts about various disability labels, and he reveals his youth by getting drunk and swearing a lot. I was not aware that the first victim of eugenics (forced sterilization) was a woman with epilepsy. I am reminded of how my son might be if he didn't have medication to control his own seizure "disorder" (not to mention that he probably wouldn't have survived or at least done as well had he been born even 10 years previously, since he was born at 24 weeks gestation).

I'm also reminded of the way we treat people in our society who are not considered to be "normal"...the impact that a look, a comment, or a sneer can have on a person, especially in the formative years of childhood. So many people have been damaged by encounters with teachers, parents, peers, or strangers. Who's to say that we are not the "abnormal" ones?

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After taking on his short bus journey, Mooney went on to cofound Project Eye-to-Eye, a nonprofit organization that matches up kids with attention and learning differences with adult mentors who have "survived" the system.

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