Opinion: Book Review

By Séamus Smyth

Asperger syndrome, a disorder explained as high-functioning autism, is the hand dealt to central character Jacob in this moving, yet educational story of the imperfect family. Jacob was a regular baby until the age of two when the symptoms of Asperger’s began to emerge. Typical signs include a complete lack of eye contact and poor social interaction. While Jacob’s mother Helen reveals a level of strength and perseverance previously unknown to even herself, Jacob’s father is unable to come to terms with his first son’s frustrating diagnosis.

Pops flees the coop just as their second son, Theo enters the world. Theo is born without any notable mental glitches and although one would assume this would make life a breeze for him when compared with the fate of his brother, this story reveals early on that this is just not the case.

Jacob is prone to wild tantrums and is a slave to routine, meaning Theo and Helen must follow suit if they wish to have any form of sanity in the household. At times the consistency is hilarious, from every day of the week having a different colour of food to be served for dinner (all brown food on Fridays), to Jacob compulsively watching his favourite television show “Crimebusters” every single day at 4:30 p.m.

Jacob’s obsession with “Crimebusters” (a fictional replica of CSI) is an extension of his passion for forensic science. He compulsively scribbles notes during and after every episode and quietly becomes an expert in the field. He begins showing up at local crime scenes, including one where he manages to solve the cause of a man’s death before the police officers. Despite being slightly uneasy with accepting Jacob’s advice, the police view Jacob as a relatively harmless individual. That is until Jacob’s social skills instructor is found murdered in cold-blood. People with Asperger’s do not have a reputation for violence but had something made Jacob snap? Or was this the work of a jealous boyfriend? This sudden murder mystery unravels with all of the answers potentially bouncing around in the brilliant, but deeply complicated mind of Jacob.

If the story were told from solely the perspective of Jacob, it may become warped in the sense that the audience is attempting to relate to someone who is incapable of understanding sarcasm or figurative language. For example, when Jacob is told to “get lost,” he is completely puzzled by this idiom because how could he be lost when he always knows where he is? It’s these sort of juvenile riddles that although are perplexing for someone with Asperger’s, can be frustrating and often hilarious to the general public.

Wisely, the story is told from multiple perspectives, ensuring that the reader is allowed to step into the shoes of each key character, which successfully demonstrates how it is not only the individual with the disorder that is enamored with embarrassment and pain. 

Helen’s passages feel more like sacred entries into her diary as she confesses that she has fantasized about a life with a normal child. Yet even in her most candid state, she still finds that she doesn’t love Jacob any less, despite his handicap. These thoughts of Helen’s, no matter how morally incorrect or un-motherly they may sound, have no doubt swirled in the minds of countless parents. It may take a character like Helen to show those men and women coping with a mental disorder as complex and new to the medicinal world as Asperger’s that it is OK to feel lost and hopeless. The message to take away from Helen’s experiences is to remember to cherish those breakthrough moments when a loved one dealing with Asperger’s manages to defy the expectations because that is what makes the fight worth fighting.