Sunday, February 23, 2014

Review of "The Reason I Jump"

Over the weekend I read Naoki Higashida's "The Reason I Jump: The Inner Voice of a Thirteen-Year-Old with Autism," which I found to be a quick and engaging read. Perhaps most people drawn to this book are parents, relatives or caregivers of autistic children, hoping to find clues to unlock their loved one's beautiful but mystery-shrouded mind. While I do have a few friends with children on the autism spectrum, I was more intrigued by the fact that this book was written by a young teenager. According to the introduction by translator David Mitchell, Higashida wrote this book, and routinely communicates with others by pointing to letters on a Japanese character chart. Before his mother devised this form of communication for her son, Naoki had little recourse for conveying his needs, thoughts and emotions.

Beyond the initial intrigue of seeing and sensing life through the perspective of autism-- I really enjoyed this 13-year-old's writing voice. Higashida is winsome and insightful as he asks and answers questions about his condition, ranging for the titular "Why do you like jumping so much?" to the more profound, "If you could be cured, would you?" (I'll let you read the book to find out the answers to those juicy questions and more!) The book is also sprinkled through with the author's original short stories that vividly reveal his creative mind and sensitive heart. The M.C. Escher-like illustrations are also a treat.

Among the more than 800 reviews on Amazon, most of the book's negative reviews claim that it's been gratuitously embellished or faked altogether by the wishful thinking of Higashida's mom or the translators. I can't vouch for its authenticity, but I find it hard to be so cynical. I'm going to give the book the benefit of the doubt. Another sore spot for many low-star reviewers was that the author often speaks on behalf of all autistic people, with broad brushstrokes that couldn't possibly accurately portray the inner voices, struggles or abilities of millions of people on the spectrum. It's a fair enough complaint, but not one that negates the value of hearing this particular autistic young author's perspective. His message can be universally applied; it's a plea for compassion and a longing to connect with those who don't have autism. This makes it a valuable resource for anyone interested in gaining insight and developing compassion for those who struggle with autism. Higashida left me with the impression that all humans deserve to be treated with love and patience, and that giving others the benefit of the doubt can have rich rewards for us and them.

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