Book Review: Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb
I thought it was going to be a long read. I breezed through it on a Sunday. I thought it was going to be an informative read. It was insightful but a tough read for its frankness. If you know anyone who is autistic and wondered what it's like to have autism, this is a good book to give you hints.
Best Boy is the story by award-winning author Eli Gottlieb about Todd Aaron, who lives in a group facility for those who have developmental disabilities. His disability is that he has autism, and the story, written in the first person, provides details in the narrative style of what it's like to have autism: How someone with autism feels, thinks, reacts, and exists in a world dominated by people who don't understand - and often don't care - how autism affects them.
Todd's mother was very loving and protective. She tried to find facilities for Todd for the day when she could no longer care for him. And then she died. His father had died before her, leaving Todd's younger brother to look after Todd's interests. But living 700 miles away, he doesn't make it over very often to see Todd. That leaves it to the staff to look after Todd. The community is mixture of interesting characters, including Todd's roommate, who doesn't like Todd and is out to prove that Todd is a slacker, and when Todd maps out a plan to run away for home, his roommate tries to turn him in. There is a love interest, too, and a young woman who is taken advantage of by a new staff member who is also paired with Todd and who coerces Todd into keeping the details a secret. Best of all, there is a staff advocate who helps Todd through the rough times and keeps him out of trouble, especially at a critical moment in the story.
Best Boy is a good, quick read, dramatic and well paced. But what I enjoyed most about it was its remarkable descriptions of what it is like to have autism. Autism is a scale of effects, no two people necessarily having the same symptoms, but if you know someone with autism you will likely recognize many of the effects. Todd speaks of rocking back and forth when excited or upset, and feeling a jolt when antagonized, for instance. But he also details what's going on in his mind - how he sees the world and how he reads people, and how that forms his decisions and how he reacts to situations. Todd also talks about his medications and how they make him feel.
I don't know where Gottlieb got his information about the effects of autism - he has written about the topic before - but from those I know who have autism, it seems spot on.
In some ways, Best Boy was a depressing read. But in other ways, it was a very revealing read and for the character Todd, it ends well. I borrowed the book from my local library to learn more about autism and felt it was a Sunday well spent reading.