Tuesday, February 9, 2016

Review: Why I Jump by Naoki Higashida

The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with AutismThe Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old Boy with Autism by Naoki Higashida

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

So many of the books about children with disabilities are written by the parents or caretakers. It's difficult to find a variation of the theme of "people with disabilities are so inspiring," which is patronizing and unhelpful if you actually want to learn their perspectives. Thus far, my only source of the autistic perspective was Temple Grandin, who grew up in a different time and can tell us all about looking back on her experiences, but not the current experience of growing up in a world that considers autism worse than polio.

Why I Jump is written by a boy who has autism, and who's able to verbalize many of the frustrations he experiences. Some of the issues are cultural; his Japanese upbringing has less pride of individualism. But many of his experiences are universal. The social subtleties and seeming contradictions would confuse him no matter where he'd grown up.

Because the book was originally written in Japanese, it's difficult to tell if the stilted style is due to translation, or because that's how the author comes across. While many people with autism do avoid contractions, others speak far more smoothly. I've often heard the halting, near-stuttered language in other works translated from Japanese. It's too bad I couldn't read this perspective in its native language.

Much of the book is taken up by a question-and-answer format, which makes it difficult as a narrative. Nonetheless, as an audio book, the listening time passes quickly, with the author never belaboring a point or lecturing the reader. The book wraps up with a story written by the author that gives some insight into how his mind works and what he fantasizes about.

In the end, this book is only one perspective from one boy with autism. He falls short of several stereotypes, and comes across as a whole person the reader can empathize with (and who, the reader will realize, has empathy of his own). It's a start, certainly. I would like to read more like this book, Most especially, I would like to know books like this are being more widely read. An awful lot of the problems described in this book wouldn't be problems with a more understanding populace.

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