I was curious about this book mainly because it was authored by an autistic boy, and I was hoping for some additional insights into the condition from the writings of a young person experiencing it firsthand. While I didn’t learn much that I didn’t already know from my own research and experiences with my son, who is on the autism spectrum, it was nice to read some of the insights offered by Naoki Higashida, particularly those found in the fictional stories offered in the book.
As the editor and translator, David Mitchell, explains in the introduction, the author may not be able to provide hard, fast answers to the questions he’s being asked, but there is value in what he has to say. In each of the short chapters, there is some nugget of wisdom offered in a way that’s outright poetic at times. For example, when Naoki’s explaining why he likes being in the water, he comes to a point where he states very directly, “People with autism have no freedom. The reason is that we are a different kind of human, born with primeval senses. We are outside the normal flow of time, we can’t express ourselves, and our bodies are hurtling us through life.” Though concepts and statements like this might sound bold to some, the nicer thing about the book is that its author keeps returning to a message of love and patience, not just for people with autism, but for everyone.
What I didn’t expect from this book was short fiction, and it offered a nice break to the more formulaic Q&A style writing that makes up the majority of the pages. The longer story towards the end titled “I’m Right Here” is particularly telling of the author’s struggles with the effects of autism. The story follows a ghostly boy who can’t seem to get the attention of anyone around him or even track how he’s arrived at various locations away from his family. The outcome is somewhat predictable, but the telling of it is done very well, and the sense of pacing is right on.
There are also several illustrations throughout the book that are nice to look at, mostly patterned images based on shapes from nature, like the butterflies and flower petals layered on the book’s cover. They are not done by the author, but I do think they add something to the book. And that seems to be the goal overall, to provide a nice framework for what the author has to say about a very difficult topic.