Monday, February 17, 2014

Book review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

A good friend loaned me this book titled The Reason I Jump to read because it is about a topic of high importance to me. Autism. The book was written by Naoki Higashida, a 13-year-old boy with autism. The book was translated by K.A. Yoshida and novelist David Mitchell. It is a series of Q & A sections with Higashida answering some basic questions most of us wonder about people with autism from why they act out to what makes them uncomfortable about crowds. 

Based on the other reviews I read, I noticed that people seem to be on the fence about the authenticity of the book. Yes, it originated from Higashida and was in Japanese to start. The translators discovered it, were inspired by it and decided that translating it would be a wonderful idea. They indeed added some of their wit into the writing; that was very obvious. This is what ticked off some people, apparently, accusing Mitchell of molding the boy's true answers to his writing style. 

When I read the intro, written by Mitchell, I got a taste of his originality and writing style, so yes, I did sense it throughout the entire book's translations. But as an autism mom who knows what these kiddos are capable of beneath their protective cover, I do believe Higashida was capable of giving these complex responses. Could my child have done this? I doubt it simply because communication is his biggest challenge, even when given writing materials and technology. He has a very hard time expressing his inner thoughts and opinions. But Higashida is strong in that regard, and perhaps his weakness is something else. He used a device called an alphabet grid to point out letters and spell out his responses. Autistic people are all as unique as their fingerprints, and I do believe their is fraud out there, but I also fully believe they have this potential. I've met many of them throughout my experiences, and they are fascinating people.  

The intro alone brought tears to my eyes because Mitchell was good about capturing what it's like to be an autism parent. How heartbreaking it is not to know what is going on in you child's mind and how disappointing it is when we read article after article and book after book, feeling unfulfilled aside from the basic knowledge we hear repeatedly. We know the stats. We know the basic dos and don'ts, the definition of it, that there are others in our shoes, the lack of research, etc. But what about real answers? We got some from Temple Grandin, a well-known adult with autism who is very verbal about her experiences. But she is just one of so many. The world needs more of these first-hand accounts, and I believe they exist worldwide. 

In this book, Higashida provides them. While he cannot speak for all autistic people, he did a great job of helping to understand what may be going through their minds in situations like not responding to questions (He advised to call their name because it is more attention-grabbing to their wandering minds). He spoke about why he is a picky eater (It could be the texture or smell of the food that is disturbing). Some of this we already assume, but it's pleasing to hear it from an autistic child himself.

All in all, I liked the book and finished reading it in just a few hours. I smiled. I teared up. And I was thankful for the read.  Five stars for this one.