Posted in autism acceptance month, book review

autistic #ownvoices fiction: the boy who steals houses by c. g. drews

Title: The Boy Who Steals Houses
Author: C. G. Drews
Date of Publication: April 2019
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars

So I have to admit that I have a not-so-secret love of angst, longing, and heartbreak in the books I read. Every time I read a story of someone searching for family, home, acceptance, love, etc., and especially of working through the challenges of trusting in those things when they show up, it hurts my heart in such a hopeful way. I remember back in high school telling my dad that I just wanted to feel like I belonged somewhere – like there was someplace where I could be completely exposed and still be completely accepted – and I think it must be a fairly common human desire because so many books touch on it. In The Boy Who Steals Houses, C. G. Drews beautifully describes both that longing and the thing itself: the desire to be loved unconditionally, and the shapes that unconditional love can take in very imperfect people and circumstances.

I can’t think of another book I’ve read that looks at autism from the outside (the main character, Sam is not expressly autistic – his brother Avery is) with such tenderness and acceptance. Sam gets frustrated with Avery and Avery gets frustrated with Sam, like any two siblings, but they love each other so fiercely, so intensely, with such mutual protectiveness. Sam tries to protect his big brother from a world that doesn’t accept or even care to understand his autism; Avery tries to protect Sam from his own anger and from the justice system. Avery stims; Avery gets overwhelmed; Avery has meltdowns and has to be rescued and pulls Sam in to the lowlife world he’s ended up in; and through it all Sam just loves and loves and loves him – and Avery loves him back. At the beginning of the book, since it’s told through Sam’s perspective, most of the narrative is showing Sam’s love and care for Avery; by the end of the book (letting the reader realize it along with Sam, I believe) the narrative shows also how Avery has always been there for Sam loving and caring for him as best he could, through all the bad decisions they’ve both made and all the bad things that have been done to them.

But Sam is really the heart of this book, with his anxieties and his desperate longing for home and family and acceptance and belonging and love. I was instantly drawn in to his story; I’ve read it twice already and will probably read it again since I can’t get him out of mind (and since Drews ended on what was essentially a cliffhanger!). To be seen and known and loved no matter what – that is the treasure Sam is searching for, and the book holds out hope that he may finally find it.

The only reason I’m not giving the book 5 stars is that the writing was a bit over-dramatic at times. Sometimes the stylistic effects really contributed to feeling the characters’ emotions; other times they seemed over the top (but that may just be due to my own intense discomfort at overtly expressed emotion). Oh, and the ending 🙂 If only a sequel were forthcoming!

C. G. Drews has written one other book, A Thousand Perfect Notes, which I have not read (I’m still too caught up in the lives of these characters to move on!). She just posted a Q&A post celebrating the one-year anniversary of The Boy Who Steals Houses that is great in itself and also links to an article she wrote about writing #ownvoices fiction and autistic representation in fiction specifically, which I found to be quite good.

Posted in family life, musings

overcoming the fear of differences

Difference doesn’t need to be a reason for separation, distrust, or conflict.

This morning I watched as kids from 18 months to 10 years old played together. Everyone waited patiently without pushing or complaining when one of the toddlers wanted to climb up the ladder to the water slide, and the big girls helped her slide down when she was scared at the top. Four year olds and 8 year olds batted balloons across the house together; 3 year olds and 9 year olds danced to music videos together. The difference in their ages – a very significant difference, honestly, in both physical and mental development – was not an impediment to enjoying their time together.

This morning I watched as children with multiple developmental disorders and disabilities played together. A girl with Down syndrome held hands with two “normal” girls as they careened down the water slide together laughing. Four boys with varying levels of autism and speech and language delays and two neurotypical boys took turns on the slide, crashing into each other, trying new ways of going down, splashing themselves and each other, without any comments on the different abilities or behaviors represented. The point was to enjoy the water, and they all enjoyed it in each other’s presence without being held back by the very noticeable differences between them.

This morning I watched as people gathered together to celebrate the life of a boy who is different in multiple ways, who faces unique challenges, and who is very much loved. I am sure that it was this love, spilling over from everyone present, that smoothed out all the potential conflict that could have been caused by the myriad of differences there this morning. By learning to love at least one other person unconditionally, with complete acceptance, with eyes to see them for who they are, with ears ready to hear them however they are able to communicate, we begin to learn how to extend that love to others as well. We look for the bright shining highlights in each other, instead of the behavioral challenges or the confusing differences. We strive for connection and communication even in the most difficult moments, instead of letting those difficulties drive us away. We begin to learn to say, and think, and live, with this perspective: that I am made in the image and likeness of God, and so are you, no matter how different we are from one another; let us meet in the heart and center of that image; let it bind us together in love.

This morning I watched a small microcosm of the kingdom of God play out before me, and my heart was filled to see it.

Differences are so often a cause of fear and suspicion. This person acts and looks and speaks differently than me, so I don’t know how to predict their actions, so I am afraid and want to stay away from them, or I speak more harshly to them because of my unease and discomfort. These people are not like me, so maybe they don’t deserve the same freedoms that I have. An older couple may ask their neighbors why they don’t just keep their children inside, as if because of their age the children have less of a right to access public outdoor space. A concerned citizen may call the police if they see a developmentally delayed adult acting strangely and defend their actions by protesting that the individual should just stay inside their group home if they can’t behave “normally” in public. A group of fairly enlightened founding fathers may preserve slavery and oppress native people because they see them as less capable or even less human. White southerners may institute separate facilities for themselves and legislate others out because they are afraid of being “contaminated” by people of other races. And normally compassionate Americans may applaud strict and trauma-inducing policies of family separation because they are afraid that these immigrants may be lawless criminals and traffickers.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. And we who are parents have the chance to shape the future world into a more understanding and loving place by giving our children the chance, here and now, to experience difference and to see how little it really matter when it comes to living and enjoying life together.

“So yes. It had flaws, but what does that matter when it comes to matters of the heart? We love what we love. Reason does not enter into it. In many ways, unwise love is the truest love. Anyone can love a thing because. That’s as easy as putting a penny in your pocket. But to love something despite. To know the flaws and love them too. That is rare and pure and perfect.” – Patrick Rothfuss, A Wise Man’s Fear

loving despite

Posted in family life, quotes

different

Learning to love ourselves, to be humble enough to admit our limitations, to truly appreciate the gifts our differences bring while also being willing to accept help and healing for the most painful ones, gives us greater mental, emotional, and spiritual health. […]

We are so often encouraged to fit into the boxes of academic achievement, intellectual prowess, recognizable achievements, personality profiles, status, money, power, external significance—to perform, to fit in the box, to be acceptable. Yet our wonderful God loves us unconditionally, now and forever. We do not have to work to please Him. He values us for what is inside our hearts—our character and integrity, our ability to love, to be faithful, to help others, and to show compassion. Our individual personalities are a gift of His design so that we might add color and variety to the world. And He can use our unique combination of circumstances—even the painful ones like mental illness—for our good and His glory.

Sally Clarkson, Different

One of the most romantic and wonderful things about my husband is that from the very beginning of our relationship he has valued me for my character and heart more than for my intelligence and knowledge. I’ve always been smart and been perceived as smart, and while it wasn’t a difficult appearance to maintain (because, at least when it comes to academics, I am quite smart), it always left me feeling somewhat empty when that was all people would see. Intelligence was a gift, a talent, but not me. So when I found this man who loved me for who I was, who saw all the other aspects of my character and personality and delighted in them, I was profoundly and deeply touched. It helped me understand God’s unconditional love; it helped me begin to love and accept myself as God made me; it is helping me now learn to love my children with that kind of acceptance and delight in all their uniqueness – even when those unique traits are difficult to understand or tame.

Different is a book written by a mother and son together, telling the story of a different and difficult childhood and the love and acceptance that carried their family through their struggles. After reading the first chapter (available here) and listening to an interview with both authors on the Read Aloud Revival podcast (available here), I’ve decided that I need to get my hands on the whole book and read the rest of it! I want to learn how to love my children as they are, while still guiding them towards maturity; I want to learn how to help them flourish best without coddling or overprotecting them. I want to stop listening to the critiques and judgments of the ignorant world and start listening to the needs and dreams of my children’s hearts: it was God who made them with those needs, God who gave them their deepest longings and most beautiful dreams, and I am only His steward, raising these children for a time, so who am I to ignore their truest selves or demand that they be other than He created them to be?