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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 2017-04-28 23:59
Drawing Autism, an art book compiled by Jill Mullin | #AutismAwarenessMonth
Drawing Autism - Jill Mullin,Temple Grandin

Over the last decade autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has become an international topic of conversation, knowing no racial, ethnic, or social barriers. Behavior analyst and educator Jill Mullin has assembled a staggering array of work from established artists like Gregory Blackstock and Jessica Park to the unknown but no less talented. Their creations, coupled with artist interviews, comprise a fascinating and compelling book that serves to educate and inspire anyone who knows someone diagnosed with ASD. Mullin's introduction and the foreword by best-selling author Temple Grandin provide an overview of autism and advocate for nurturing the talents, artistic and otherwise, of autistic individuals.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

Now in its second edition, Drawing Autism is a collection of artwork compiled by NYC-based behavioral analyst Jill Mullin. Mullin explains in her introductory essay how one year her work had her cross paths with an autistic artist living in a group home who showed extraordinary joy and talent through his artwork. Her acquaintance with this artist inspired her to seek out other talented artists with autism across the world. Mullin lays out her end goal with this project:

 

"Commonly in the media, individuals with autism have been shown to have great talents in certain areas such as science and math. The intention of this book is to display another area where individuals with autism can have great abilities."

 

Within this opening essay, Mullin also reveals that this project ended up being so successful that it helped greatly propel the featured artists into global notoriety, many of them being asked to do art showings all over the world. Mullin's essay is preceded by a foreword written by none other than Temple Grandin, one of today's most famous faces when it comes to autism awareness! Also included in the art collection are a few of Grandin's diagrams of her inventions (designs for more humane deaths for cattle in meat processing facilities).

 

Mullin wrote up a list of interview questions that she submitted to each artist she asked to be featured in this collection. From those questions, she pulls some of the most interesting or revealing answers, placing them alongside the artwork, giving the viewer / reader an eye-opening look into the world of an autistic mind. The collection as a whole is broken up into themed sections that illustrate common characteristics of the autism spectrum as a whole. For example, "Getting From Here To There" collects art pieces that focus on fascination with various modes of transportation; "Interaction, Individual and Societal" gives artists a space to express how they perceive themselves from a societal point of view. Many pieces in this section illustrate feelings of isolation, not being fully understood or accepted, frustration with miscommunications, etc; "Art For Art's Sake" is a place for the artists to just create for the sake of joy and fun. There's no particular deep meaning to the works in this section necessarily, just pieces that have made the artists happy or at peace in their souls. 

 

 

Personally, "Art For Art's Sake" and "Bird's Eye View" (pieces focusing on nature themes) were my favorite sections. I especially loved the works of Shawn Belanger -- his autism leaves him predominately non-verbal -- whose work is featured on several pages of Drawing Autism. The colors and movement of his pieces shouted a joy of life to me!

 

 

 

 

My very favorite piece though, I think I'd give that to "The Death of Love #373" by Charles D. Topping. I could not stop looking at it!

 

 

Some of the images, several actually, have definite grit and darkness to them. Some perusers of this book might be shocked at certain pieces if the paintings are only taken on their own. I would urge that you read the accompanying interview answers explaining many of the pieces. There you will see that while perhaps initially a shock to the eye, there is a purpose and / or a story of hurt behind the inspiration that you should hear. 

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review 2017-03-26 23:02
God's Easter Miracles (Sea Kids #6) by Lee Ann Mancini
God's Easter Miracles: Adventures Of The Sea Kids - Lee Ann Mancini

In God's Easter Miracles, the sea kids learn that Easter isn't just about the Easter bunny or candy. It's about Jesus Christ giving up His life for all of us, and how we are to sacrifice ourselves for others. Paul, who is autistic, struggles with relationships. Jimmy doesn't want to share and Lenny clings to life due to a terrible boat accident. 

~from back cover

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

It's Easter Sunday, the day that celebrates Jesus Christ rising from his mortal death, and all the kids in the coralhood (rather than neighborhood) are coming together for celebration and fellowship. Sunday school brings the kids a lesson on that most important day for Christians, but it also leads to your standard Easter celebrations such as Easter egg hunting. Sunday school teacher Miss Linda has made this hunt extra special. She has told the children that anyone who finds one of the special eggs with a cross on it gets to pick a special gift from the classroom treasure chest as an extra treat! Naturally, all the kids are over-the-moon, excited! 

 

When the kids get back to the classroom with the baskets brimming with candy-filled eggs, autistic student Paul finds he does not have one of the cross eggs in his basket, causing him to have an emotional meltdown. Miss Linda discovers another student, Jimmy, has found two of the cross eggs and suggests Jimmy should give one to Paul. Jimmy is not immediately down with this idea but the whole scene is temporarily forgotten when manatee Brian gets word that his brother, Lenny, has been most seriously injured by a boat propeller. While Lenny's life hangs in the balance, everyone in the coralhood is quickly called together to begin a prayer vigil in hopes that Lenny will make a speedy recovery.  Though Jimmy attends the prayer vigil with everyone else, he still has an inner struggle with what the right course of action to take is, regarding Paul and the egg. Along with healing for Lenny, Jimmy also prays for guidance with his own struggles. 

 

 

 

I've adored this series from the very first book (and I've written up reviews for them all), but this one I struggled with a bit more than the others. The illustrations are still top-notch, but the plot left me with mixed feelings, at least until I got to the end. The ending brought everything together nicely and made it all make sense, as an ending should, but even so, I still had that thin vein of "I dunno, man.." continuing to linger. 

 

I applaud Mancini for incorporating a character with autism into the series but I'm not sure I entirely agree with how the teacher, Miss Linda, worked with Paul. First with the egg, I thought it unfair to put the responsibility of calming Paul's meltdown on his classmate, Jimmy. Jimmy was right, he found his eggs fairly, and it should be his natural choice whether to share or not. Though Miss Linda outwardly makes it sound like a choice, she is very heavy-handed with pressuring Jimmy to make the "right" decision. This causes Jimmy to have his own day of emotional upset thinking he is in the wrong for even debating giving up his honestly won prize. In my mind, I felt the responsibility of calming Paul should have been the teacher's alone, perhaps keeping extra cross eggs or a different kind of prize for such situations. I felt bad for Jimmy having to carry the weight of that situation on his shoulders. But I liked that Jimmy's father later comes in with the voice of reason that heals Jimmy's heart, basically telling him that if you want to do a kindness for someone, make sure it is truly a calling from your own heart, not because you're guilted into it. 

 

(Also, check out the wall art behind Jimmy's dad -- it's the cover from Sea Kids #3, I'm Not Afraid!)

 

 

Then there was the scene where Paul is struggling to write a get well card for Lenny. Miss Linda suggests she just write it for him. Again, not sure I like the message of just doing things for those with disabilities rather than teaching them how to best work with their physical or mental challenges. But as I said earlier, the book closes on a strong message: that generally speaking, giving ultimately provides the giver with a much richer and more satisfying experience than receiving a gift. 

 

I also liked the introduction (I don't recall seeing him in previous books, anyway) of Mayor Hammerhead. Hope to see more of him in future installments! 

 

 

And can we just talk about this illustration of Paul praying -- I can't get over how adorable it is! 

 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: GLM Publishing and ebook tour coordinator Susan Barton both kindly provided me with complimentary copies of this book with a request that I might check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own. 

 

___________

 

My reviews for the previous books in this series:

 

#1 Fast Freddy

 

#2 What A Bragger

 

#3 I'm Not Afraid! 

 

#4 A Servant Like Jesus

 

#5 God's Gift

 

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review 2017-03-06 16:51
Nutshell by Ian McEwan
Nutshell: A Novel - Ian McEwan

Trudy has betrayed her husband, John. She's still in the marital home—a dilapidated, priceless London townhouse—but John's not there. Instead, she's with his brother, the profoundly banal Claude, and the two of them have a plan. But there is a witness to their plot: the inquisitive, nine-month-old resident of Trudy's womb. Told from a perspective unlike any other, Nutshell is a classic tale of murder and deceit from one of the world’s master storytellers.

Amazon.com

 

 

 

 

Ian McEwan brings readers a murder mystery told from the unique perspective of an unborn child. Trudy is nearing the end of her pregnancy but is currently estranged from her husband... because she threw him out. Not for infidelity or anything like that... no, she'd just grown a little bored and dissatisfied with the man. Trudy gently opens up the "maybe it would be good for us to have some time apart" conversation which ends in husband John moving out and shortly thereafter John's brother Claude secretly taking his place.

 

A night of heavy drinking gives Claude and Trudy the inspiration to end John's life. At this point, our unborn narrator expresses his concern over what kind of situation he's being born into... he explains having a natural desire to love his mother as one tends to feel towards someone keeping you alive and all... but all this talk of murder weapons and methods leaves him unsettled! Listening in on conversations through the stretched skin of his mother's womb, baby-narrator doesn't get the impression that John is all that horrid, despite what Trudy's wine-loosened lips might say. A 6'3 teddy bear of a guy, John seems to be a people-pleaser, which annoys Trudy. She finds him weak and kind and considerate to a fault (aka total doormat of a guy). But baby-narrator reasons that there are definitely worse traits to find in someone -- just look at John's brother, Claude! Dumb as a bag of rocks, obsessed with having sex multiple times a day, making lewd comments or gestures when not in the actual act, table manners of a Neanderthal. What is Trudy thinking?!

 

All in all, I had mixed feelings about this short novel (less than 200 pages). For much of it I was thinking plot-wise this thing was about a 2. Just not enough tension for me. But then I realized I was actually having some fun reading these characters, just them as people. Claude grossed me out most of the time, and I was stumped trying to make sense of Trudy's thought process, but she does make a little more sense when you get closer to the end. I actually ended up feeling a bit sad for her. Still not cool that you were throwing back so much wine though, girl. Seriously. 

 

What truly carried the story for me was the thin vein of dark comedy McEwan weaves into everyone's narratives. The surprise visit from John and Trudy's casual:

 

"Claude, darling, kindly put the glycol bottle away." 

 

LOL, I may be a little twisted but I love that kind of humor. 

 

The unnamed, unborn narrator -- at first I was a little troubled thinking,"This is an unborn child, how would he have such a developed intelligence about him?!" but an acceptable explanation for that is later provided. But that intelligence gives him an already-done-with-it-all edge to his voice that I enjoyed. 

 

 

I also grew to like John, in the few scenes he appears. He struck me as a good dude, if maybe a little neglectful, a little oblivious of Trudy's growing discontent before she booted him. The doormat impression is strong with him until one scene where he gives a quiet speech, subtle in tone yet darkly funny which is directed at Trudy and has an unspoken "I'm on to you" kind of message. Trudy and I were similarly left speechless! But then he snaps out of it, they get to talking about the good ol' days, John reminiscing about when he and Trudy met, back when he enjoyed reciting poetry and was a javelin thrower on the track & field team. This leads into my favorite exchange in the whole book:

 

Trudy: "I never want to hear another poem again."

John (pointing to his brother, Claude): "Well, you certainly won't get any out of that guy."

 

BOOM. And then he just leaves. Yep, I liked that John.

 

The inspiration for the title of this book comes from a line in William Shakespeare's Hamlet, which McEwan references before the story begins. While this little novel of his is not a direct retelling, I could definitely see inspiration and likenesses between the two throughout. 

 

 

FTC Disclaimer: Doubleday Publishers kindly provided me with a complimentary copy of this book & requested that I check it out and share my thoughts. The opinions above are entirely my own.

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