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text 2017-06-21 02:23
DNF: The Brain That Changes Itself
The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science - Norman Doidge

While the concept of Neuroplasticity - the ability of brains to continue to change even in adulthood - is fascinating, this book is less so.  I felt like the author was trying to emulate Oliver Sacks to use case studies as a way to tell the history of the change in paradigm from a localized adult brain to the possibility of change, but not quite getting there.

 

 

I skidded out in Chapter 4 Acquiring Tastes and Loves - what Neuroplasticity Teaches us about Sexual Attraction and Love.  And since the book is due back at the library, I'm going to officially DNF and move on to more interesting (fiction) and my next Booklikes-opoly read.

 

 

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review 2017-05-10 09:25
Marcelo In The Real World by Francisco X. Stork | #AutismAwareness
Marcelo in the Real World - Francisco X. Stork

Marcelo Sandoval hears music that nobody else can hear --- part of an autism-like condition that no doctor has been able to identify. But his father has never fully believed in the music or Marcelo's unique perception of reality, and he challenges Marcelo to work in the mailroom of his law firm for the summer... to join "the real world". There Marcelo meets Jasmine, his beautiful and surprising coworker, and Wendell, the son of another partner in the firm. He learns about competition and jealousy, anger and desire. But it's a picture he finds in a file -- a picture of a girl with half a face --- that truly connects him with the real world: its suffering, its injustice, and what he can do to fight.

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

Seventeen year old Marcelo (pronounced "Marselo") is described as having an "autism-like" condition. That's as close as doctors can come to defining his unique gift of being able to hear music where no one else can. Unfortunately for Marcelo, his father doesn't see anything particularly rare or special about his son's gift. Instead, the father pushes Marcelo to take a job in the mailroom of his law firm --- dad's reasoning being that the position will teach Marcelo useful skills about "the real world"  and put him on the path to success, rather than let his mind run away with creative dreamer fancies. 

 

Once in the mailroom environment, Marcelo meets and befriends the lovely Jasmine and Wendell, the son of one of the partners at the law firm. As his father anticipated, the first days were an experience for Marcelo, to say the least, as another "autism-like" trait that Marcelo displays is a struggle with interpreting facial expressions. But thanks to classes Marcelo attends to help him learn tips & tricks to help him out with this (instruction in voice inflection, speech patterns, and the like), it actually doesn't take him too long to find his way. It's a tough time for the reader though. We have to watch Marcelo navigate around co-workers who assume he's mentally incompetent, or those who try to bully or take advantage of him because he can't immediate recognize that he is being tricked. This is the "real world" his father so desperately wanted him to be a part of... thanks, dad! 

 

 

"What's wrong with you, anyway? With the way you think. Your father said you had some kind of cognitive disorder."

 

"He said that." It surprises me to hear Arturo refer to me that way. He has always insisted that there's nothing wrong with me. The term "cognitive disorder" implies there is something wrong with the way I think or with the way I perceive reality. I perceive reality just fine. Sometimes I perceive more of reality than others.

 

Marcelo develops a love for religious texts and often turns to reading or reciting scripture to himself to calm his nerves when the world starts to overwhelm him. At one point, he finds himself unexpectedly caught up in one of his father's most important legal cases, one that will push Marcelo to fight for what he believes in, regardless of what others around him might say. 

 

After being published in 2009, in 2010 this novel was awarded the Schneider Family Book Award for Teen Fiction, an award that recognizes fiction that focuses on characters with disabilities. 

 

I've come across pages of glowing reviews for this one, and while I did very much enjoy it, I can't comfortably join the 5 star crowd here. The story had some dents for me. I loved Marcelo, the way his mind worked and his unique style of interacting with others even if he didn't (admittedly) always understand all the unspoken social cues. Something in that I found myself relating to quite a bit. His friendship with Jasmine was undeniably sweet and I found myself wishing he and Wendell could get on a bit better. So the characters undeniably spoke to me on some level. My trouble was with the writing. Some of the characters came off just a little too weirdly staccato in their speech and mannerisms for my enjoyment. The flow of things just felt a shade off from natural. In Marcelo's case it's understandable and almost expected, given that he's been diagnosed with a "autism-like" condition, but that doesn't explain the other characters!

 

Also, if I'm being honest with my reading experience... there was just something a little... lackluster... with the plot as a whole. I was all about this story in the early pages! Those first few chapters definitely had me hooked. But this was one of those books where I could feel my love and interest of it slowly trickling down instead of racing up. Reading pages on end and then realizing later, "you know, that was actually a whole lotta nothing going on"... and the book's not even that long! Still, I did quite like Stork's message here -- the way Marcelo finds his own voice in a sea of so many others telling him what he needs or what he should do --- it made me curious to try out some of Stork's other works just to compare, so I now have a couple on order. Even with the elements I myself found problematic, I would still solidly recommend this to anyone looking for YA reads featuring the theme of autism and enhanced abilities. 

 

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review 2017-05-02 21:45
Melting Down (graphic novel) by Jeff Krukar & Katie Gutierrez | #AutismAwareness
Melting Down: A Comic for Kids with Asperger's Disorder and Challenging Behavior (The ORP Library) - Jeff Krukar,Katie Gutierrez,James G. Balestrieri,Nathan Lueth

Based on dozens of intensive interviews with parents, clinical psychologists, teachers, and more, Melting Down is the illustrated fictional story of Benjamin, a boy diagnosed with Asperger's disorder and additional challenging behavior. From the time Benjamin is a toddler, he knows he is different: he doesn't understand social and emotional cues, does not know how to play with his sister or other children, and dislikes making eye contact. And his tantrums are not like normal tantrums; they're meltdowns that will eventually make regular schooling-and day-to-day life-impossible. Told from Benjamin's perspective, Melting Down gives a unique glimpse into the journey taken by children with Asperger's disorder and additional challenging behavior, demonstrating that the path toward hope isn't simple—but with the right tools and teammates, it's possible.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Benjamin spends his early school years struggling to make progress, not only in academics but also when it comes to social scenarios. He doesn't seem to understand the unspoken rules of the schoolyard. What is certain about Benjamin is that he does love learning! He loves all things involving history or trains, but becomes uncomfortable or even upset when asked to move away from those topics onto something else. Benjamin doesn't like interruption to his preferred daily routines and patterns and is prone to moments of intense anger, sometimes leading to physical altercations with teachers and / or students. At wit's end with the situation, his parents begin taking him to a revolving door of mental health professionals (not to mention the mountain of trial medications!), one doctor finally pinpointing Benjamin's behavior as Asperger's Syndrome. Through the doctor's recommendation, Benjamin is enrolled in Genesee Lake School, a school for students with special needs.

 

There, Benjamin learns proper coping skills on how to manage his feelings of anger and stress in a healthy manner, how to grade his moments of anxiety on a scale of 1 to 5 and take action accordingly, even how to do home skills such as cooking and laundry. The staff at Genesee teach Benjamin that he is not broken, he just requires a different approach to things in life. He is incredibly talented, he only needs to funnel that energy toward productive goals. Benjamin finds comfort in the new found order in his life. With the skills he learns at Genesee, he is able to finish school, take a job as a library aide, and even joins a tae kwon do class. 

 

Genesee Lake School is a real place in Wisconsin. The school not only provides education for autistic students, but also those with mood / anxiety disorders or victims of trauma. Dr. Jeff Krukar, one of the co-authors of this graphic novel, is Genesee's resident psychologist. He helps develop books for the ORP Library, a catalog of works that offer resource books for parents and teachers of students with mental disorders. The adult works are accompanied by graphic novels that can be provided to the students themselves, the idea being that between the two a dialogue between adults and children with said disorders might be more successfully reached. Melting Down is only one of many titles within the ORP Library. 

 

In simple, straightforward text and imagery, Melting Down gives children and adults alike a clear impression of what some of the often misdiagnosed or unaddressed challenges of Asperger's Syndrome are. The colorful artwork by Nathan Lueth keeps the reader's eyes entertained while also sucking you into the challenging life of Benjamin, a good kid who just wants to understand why life feels so hard. 

 

I much enjoyed experiencing the graphic novel portion of Melting Down and look forward to delving into its nonfiction companion book. In fact, I am most curious to get into the other titles within the ORP library which look at not only autism but also conditions / topics such as bullying, bipolar disorder, children with PTSD, and even the conflicting emotions that can come with being an adopted child. 

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review 2017-05-01 01:23
Star Surgeon by James White
Star Surgeon - James White

Star Surgeon starts off with Conway treating an alien of a sort he’s never seen or heard of before. It turns out that his newest patient’s species is seen as somewhat godlike by those aliens that know of them. They’re purported to be immortal, and they have a habit of gradually making themselves the supreme ruler of a world, solving its problems (I was left with so many questions), and then leaving. They are always accompanied by a companion of a different species.

Conway’s efforts to treat his patient, Lonvellin, impress it so much that it later insists he help it and the Monitor Corps with a problem it’s having on the planet Etla, which is part of a larger Empire made up of several planets. Etla used to have a thriving population before it was hit by one horrible illness after another. To make matters worse, Etla’s natives are deeply suspicious of beings that look different from them, so they refuse to accept help from anyone except the Empire’s Imperial Representative, who rarely stops by. Earth humans and Etlans just happen to look very much alike, so Conway and the Monitor Corpsmen are able to sneak in, assess the situation, and try to help. Unfortunately, the situation is much worse than anyone realizes and deteriorates to such a degree that Sector General finds itself caught up in an interstellar war.

I think this is my second full-length Sector General novel, although I’ve read a bunch of Sector General short stories. So far it looks like one of the nice things about the full-length novels is that they gave the author the time and space to show readers things that weren’t directly related to solving medical mysteries. Star Surgeon shows readers one of Sector General’s recreational areas (as Conway tries to convince Murchison to take their relationship from “friends, sort of” to “dating and maybe even having sex”), and I learned that there are apparently 218 human (or at least DBDG) women at Sector General, not that we ever learn the names of any of them besides Murchison.

Unfortunately, Star Surgeon turned out to be less focused on medical mysteries and more of a war book. Lonvellin’s medical issues were dealt with fairly quickly, and Etla’s problems were revealed to be less medical and more political (and absolutely horrifying). That left the interstellar war, with Sector General at its heart.

This book’s tone and message reminded me strongly of the story “Accident,” available in the Sector General omnibus Alien Emergencies. The specifics of how Sector General was evacuated were fascinating - in addition to concerns about moving sick or injured patients, every species’ general physical needs (gravity, atmosphere, temperature, and more) also had to be taken into account.

Unfortunately, Sector General’s evacuation and the events that happened afterward were also a bit emotionally draining. Sector General was intended to be a hospital capable of catering to any and every alien species. The evacuation and Sector General’s transformation into “what amounted to a heavily armed military base” (104) were both painful.

Once again, I can’t help but wonder about the economics of the Sector General universe. Money still seems to exist and be necessary, because it took great gobs of money to build Sector General in the first place. The damage Sector General sustained during the battle and the hospital’s evacuation and repurposing should probably have financially wrecked it. And yet it apparently recovered just fine, because there are many Sector General stories and books that come after this one.

As much as I like the idea behind the Sector General series, the books and stories have several recurring problems. One of those problems kept rearing its ugly head in Star Surgeon: sexism. Since the series is usually careful not to assign a gender to any of its aliens, except in one instance where a particular alien species cycles through genders during the course of its life, that means that most of the more blatant sexism involves Murchison, the series’ only named human woman (that I know of).

If Murchison ever appeared on-page without some mention of her appealing physical form or features, it was rare. Also, just like in Star Healer, Murchison requested to be allowed to use an educator tape, only to be shot down by O’Mara.

“‘As for the girls [he means the nurses],’ [O’Mara] went on, a sardonic edge in his voice, ‘you have noticed by this time that the female Earth-human DBDG has a rather peculiar mind. One of its peculiarities is a deep, sex-based mental fastidiousness. No matter what they say they will not, repeat not, allow alien beings to apparently take over their pretty little brains. If such should happen, severe mental damage would result.’”  (132)

And then there was this, said by Murchison to Conway:

“‘I...I asked him to give me [an educator tape], earlier, to help you out. But he said no because…’ She hesitated, and looked away. ‘...because he said girls are very choosey who they let take possession of them. Their minds, I mean…’” (141)

Am I the only one who thinks that explanation sounds uncomfortably sexual? At any rate, while I’m thankful that at least one Sector General fix fic exists, it doesn’t stop the burst of anger I feel whenever I come across things like this in the original books and stories.

Well, even though I hate the series’ sexism, I love its “doctors in space” focus. Unfortunately, this particular book was grimmer and had less in the way of medical mysteries than I preferred. It wasn’t a bad entry in the series, but it wasn’t quite what I was hoping for when I started reading.

 

(Original review posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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