Can we take a temporary hiatus from books about neurotypical protagonists who perceive their Autistic Spectrum siblings as mostly or entirely irrelevant balls and chains in their otherwise perfect lives? I know, I know, the teen overlooked by their parents in favor of their special needs brother or sister, who needs so much more care than they is a story as old as time, to say the least. But how long after the parents are dead can the angst and resentment carry on? Isn’t there a time to pull yourself up by your bootstraps and forgive the sins of your parents, and the overbearing challenges of your disabled sibling?
For me, the Murphy’s realization that no, they might not had it perfect, but it could have been a whole lot fucking worse couldn’t come soon enough. Asif and Lila, two Palestinian/Irish siblings, have always lived in the shadow of their brilliant Asperger’s sister Yasmin. They were in many ways denied a childhood because of their mother’s insistence that they not do anything to set off Yasmin. Now, Mom and Dad are dead and Asif serves as the primary caretaker to Yasmin, a beautiful but painfully awkward teen whose moods fluctuate on the turn of a dime. And Lila… what exactly does Lila do?
She promiscuously fucks around, throws epic tantrums, and is a grade-A cunt to everyone who crosses her path. Of course, she isn’t responsible for any of this. This is all her sister’s fault, for stealing all of Mommy’s love and attention, while she suffered an extended bout of depression and unhappiness. Lila is an infuriating character. I have never met anyone like her, and if I did, I would do something drastic, like throw my sneaker at her. In my limited experience, most people don’t seek out confrontation with complete strangers, but the name of her game is Drama with a capital ‘D.’
I found it impossible to sympathize with Lila, and hard to sympathize with Asif, who is too bland and plays it too safe while being privately self-pitying to be a compelling character. Yasmin is not always likable, but least you can blame it on her condition, which limits empathy in some (not all) of it’s patients. Lila is a stock Beautiful But Damaged heroine, and her blind boyfriend Henry thinks she’s beautiful inside and out and absolutely wonderful in every way. Until a scene where Henry goes explosively off which comes out of left field, culminating in angry and abusive sex, Henry is the disability equivalent of the magical Negro, and the male version of the manic pixie dream girl (he’s sensitive! He’s quirky! He’s wonderfully British! He exists to save the self-absorbed little bitch from herself!)
Henry is a completely unbelievable character in the amount of shit he takes from Lila. The scene where he explodes, screams at her, and takes her a rough and loveless fashion (not quite rape, but still) struck false, and serves simply as a way of showing that he wasn’t completely perfect while seeming artificial and icky. As for Yasmin, you’re better off reading “The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time,” as it is more of the same. The subplots of Yasmin having synesthesia and particularly going blind (which is never fully handled) seem ill-conceived and underdeveloped.
The writing here is decent, so why did I pan it so enthusiastically? After all, it’s not really that bad a book. An acutely observed character detail here, an interesting simile there…. I guess ‘The Way Things Look to Me’ just rubbed me the wrong way. I never warmed up to the characters and their individual dramas, and I had to power through the book while suppressing a groan. Asif and Lila were SO self-absorbed, and Asif continually played the martyr, which made him even more exhausting. Yasmin was the typical robotic, tragically cold and distant savant, and although I was not offended by Farooki’s portrayal of her (which was fairly accurate for some cases) I wish that authors would acknowledge that Asperger’s comes in many forms.
Domestic dramas mostly work when you’re invested in the characters, and that just didn’t happen for me here. I’d also like to point out that while Lila never calls Yasmin a retard, continually referring to her is Raingirl and Miss Spock can be just as pejorative and damaging. As a person with mild Asperger’s Syndrome, I’d also like to say (although this is not the fault of the book, which deals with a more typical case,) many people with AS do feel empathy just as fully for other people.
I found ‘The Way Things Looks to Me’ an angsty and overlong book, chock-full of self-pity, but I don’t not recommend it. It might appeal perfectly to other people, just as one man despises a dish that his companion loves. This review is based more on my personal reaction than the quality of the character development or writing in the book. It’s just that I wouldn’t want to spend my afternoon with these people, so why would I want 338 pages of my time with these people. They’re not even compelling in a macabre, ‘Wasp Factory’-way. But I digress. This is not a book for me. It made me annoyed and exasperated. But it is not terrible, and those would like to read it should, by all means, partake.