Best Boy. Finished 9-25-15, rating 4.5/5, fiction, 246 pages, pub. 2015
Sent to a “therapeutic community” for autism at the age of eleven, Todd Aaron, now in his fifties, is the “Old Fox” of Payton LivingCenter. A joyous man who rereads the encyclopedia compulsively, he is unnerved by the sudden arrivals of a menacing new staffer and a disruptive, brain-injured roommate. His equilibrium is further worsened by Martine, a one-eyed new resident who has romantic intentions and convinces him to go off his meds to feel “normal” again. Undone by these pressures, Todd attempts an escape to return “home” to his younger brother and to a childhood that now inhabits only his dreams. from Goodreads
Okay, let’s start with the ways that this book was a difficult read for me. Autism communities, like the one in the book, are both reassuring and frightening for a parent. I know someone who works at a community home, similar but on a much smaller scale, and he said because of the pay the staff turnover was high and the quality of employees was sometimes so bad that the residents were robbed of the money their families sent. This is something I pray about every night, Gage’s independence. But the surprising thing for me was how hard I was hit by Todd’s love for his dead mother. Todd still needed his mother and she had been the only one who really looked out for his best interests, so I shed a few tears at those points of the book that I’m sure wouldn’t affect someone else the same way. I need to live forever, guys!
To the story, I love that this was told from Todd’s first person perspective. Todd is a higher functioning man in his 50’s and this is not a character I’ve seen before. Todd loves his routine, oldies music and to be helpful. He works around the center and even goes to the local school to help serve lunch. But Todd’s routine was disrupted by a hateful roommate, a girl who makes him ‘have wind in his pants’, and new staffer who uses Todd to cover for his extracurricular activities. Those three people leave Todd unsettled and wanting to return home to his brother so he does something drastic.
Gottlieb, whose autistic brother lives in a community not unlike Todd, gets the voice just right. Every person on the spectrum is different, with different abilities, but Todd is a fair representation of many of the commonalities of those on the spectrum. I enjoyed my time with Todd even it was tinged with apprehension. If you’ve never spent time with an adult on the autism spectrum then I think this book would give a great perspective with a great story too. The end was very satisfying and left Todd and the reader in a good place.
Thanks for sending me a copy Golda! I also enjoyed meeting the author when he was on tour last month and he wrote this article in the Washington Post about his real life experiences with his 57 year old brother. I highly recommend it.