Review: With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child (Episodes I and II)
I used to tease my seventeen-year-old niece about reading books backwards. Instead of flipping the pages of her books from right to left, she flips them from left to right. Like one would do with ordinary books, she starts reading at the top of the book but reads from right to left instead of left to right. You see, my niece who is of the first generation to love the Pokemon phenomenon now has moved on to Japanese-style Manga books.
The reason she handles her books "backwards" is because her books are originally written in Japanese and then translated to English. It's easier to set the Manga up backwards than to translate the book into a traditional format.
I am less likely to tease my niece now because I have gone and done it too. I found the title of the Manga With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child by Keiko Tobe too difficult to resist. I read a review and was impressed that there was a decent fictional book about an autistic person that was written by someone who does not have a relative with autism. Most books on the topic are nonfiction and written by adults on the spectrum or parents of someone with autism.
That said, With the Light is actually based on a mother/son pair whom she met at a school event. All the children there were asked what they wanted to be when they grew up. Most could answer the question, but one little boy could not. He had autism. His mother intervened and replied that he wanted to be "a happy working adult."
The mother so impressed Tobe by her response that the Manga author was inspired to create With the Light. Two translated editions have been released and a third is due out in a few months. The author has vowed to keep putting out new editions until her character becomes a happy working adult.
That means there will be no surprises as to how the story will end. Fortunately, the story of Hikaru and his family is compelling enough to inspire a readers to become a fan of the series. Sometimes the soap opera-ish style of the Manga and the mini story lines with the larger story are over a bit over the top. However, I believe the author has demonstrated that she has a good understanding of autism and the various social issues that surround the condition. (The causes are not discussed.)
Further, this is a good crossover series. Those who love Manga will have the opportunity to learn about autism and those who live and breathe autism will learn how to read Manga. It's a great book to give to teenagers who may have relatives or friends with autism. I'm hoping to lend my two books to my niece soon.
Parents who are used to doing things topsy turvy anyway shouldn't have problems reading the Manga. It's not too difficult once one gets the hang of it and there is a diagram at the beginning of the book which explains how it should be read. Surprisingly (to me) the characters of With the Light, in Manga tradition, look more Caucasian than Asian although the culture is definitely that of a Japanese society. Most of the characters have large eyes and the mother has blond hair. The reader is reminded of the Japanese setting, however, when certain aspects of life such as ceremonies, restaurants and business practices are featured.
Please note that translation issues are also the reason why some of statistics of With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child are wrong. The original copyright for this Manga was 2001, but the first two editions in English have just come out in September 2007 and March 2008 respectively. The third is due out in September 2008.
Excerpts From a Manga blog:
"I do wish the book depicted more of Hikaru’s inner life. In a few places, the story shifts to Hikaru’s point of view, and that goes a long way toward explaining how he behaves. I know that this is difficult, because autism is poorly understood, but it almost seems like Hikaru is off in the corner for most of the book. The story is really more about Sachiko learning to cope with him than Hikaru himself."
By the end of the book, which includes two essays about autistic children, I felt like I knew a lot more about autism. I also was hungry for more. With the Light manages to be informative without being preachy, and if the story isn’t always realistic, it definitely kept me reading. This book is very different from anything on the market right now, and I certainly hope it finds its audience. It deserves to."