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The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

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 I have a friend, who shall remain nameless for privacy purposes, who has an adolescent son with Autism. Whenever I saw him, he seemed so consumed in his own mind that I wondered what was going on there. What was he thinking? Since then, the otherwise-nonverbal son has started to express himself through paper and pencil. His mom now knows his inner world, at least, more so than she did before. His writing and spelling skills are virtually perfect, and he has an eidetic memory. He was locked within his mind for so long that one can only imagine the pleasure she gets out of seeing him express his feelings and emotions.

Thirteen-year-old Naoki Higashida is a brilliant boy with Autism who offers us a rare glimpse into his private world in ‘The Reason I Jump,’ a book of questions and answers about people with Autistic Spectrum with Autism. As someone with (very mild) Asperger’s, I found myself relating to some of Higashida’s prose. My difficulties are not as challenging as someone who is severely on the spectrum (and I shouldn’t pretend like they are,) but I felt a pang of recognition at certain points; for instance, the passage about Higashida’s horrible sense of direction (when left on my own, I will get badly lost even in places I somewhat recognize.)

I found the foreword by writer and David Mitchell somewhat dry, and was offended by his ¬†allegation that people with Autism are unable to understand what you’re saying, which is as detrimental as it is untrue. To be honest, there is an immaturity in some of Naoki Higashida’s writing, which is nearly inevitable considering the writer’s young age. When you compare him to an adult writer, it leaves you wanting a bit more from his writing style. When you match him up against his peers, however, his precociousness is impressive.

Above all, ‘The Reason I Jump’ was very eye-opening and informative. It is an explanation of everything from meltdowns, preoccupation with sameness, to extracurricular interests and the eponymous ‘reason we jump.’ Of course, Higashida’s reasons for classic Autistic behavior can seem a little too pat and cannot apply to everyone with the disorder, but it serves as a pretty good springboard for discussion about Autism and the understanding and treatment of people with disabilities in general.

At the end of the book, I was in for a treat. The final chapter, a short story written by the author titled “I’m Right Here,” showed a maturity and prowess beyond his years. Who says people on the Spectrum can’t be creative? The story, which compares Autism to being a recently dead spirit desperate to communicate with loved ones, is very touching and lovely. The writing is fluid and beautiful, and you cannot help but be moved as the main character faces an agonizing choice.

‘The Reason I Jump’ is utterly original, and will be a lifesaver for people struggling to understand their kids. I think Naoki Hagashida has a great career in front of him as a memoirist, a writer, and an advocate for the Autistic, especially those who can’t speak for themselves He is a boy of uncommon courage and candor, and what is there not to like about that? A powerful, however brief, read.

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By The Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead by Julie Anne Peters

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Although it has some examples of grating and cliched prose (all of which is typical for YA lit,) “By the Time You Read This, I’ll Be Dead” provides a fairly accurate look at the confused and self-despising mind of a suicidal teen. Daelyn Rice is at boiling point- after various attempts to take her own life, she has joined a suicide completion web site and is determined to succeed this time. Her parents are amiable but clueless- her classmates, cruel, and her teachers apathetic. Daelyn’s head brims with contradictions, despair, and hopelessness. She both hates the world and hates herself- but will the eccentric Santana draw her out of her suicidal shell?

Daelyn was an simultaneously tragic and profoundly frustrating. She’s a sick little girl, and considering her history of bullying by both the kids and adults in her life, that’s no surprise. I was so mad at Daelyn’s parents, though of course I felt bad that their daughter detested them and wanted to kill herself. I don’t know about you, but if I was locked in the closet for eight hours by some students and pissed my pants, my dad would be tearing the bullies, the teachers, and the administration a new asshole.

And I understand why parents don’t have the time and resources to homeschool their bullied kids. But don’t these people have any protective instinct towards their offspring? At first I thought Chip and Kim Rice were nice. Now I think they’re idiots. Daelyn herself is a somewhat unreliable narrator, especially in the way she portrays suicide. I would suggest that parents look up this book before they let their teens with depressive issues read this. I know you can’t always control what teens read, nor would they want to (adolescence is a time of burgeoning freedom) but the story is not exactly hopeful, and could be triggering to a certain audience.

However, for teens who are not suicidal-slash-are recovering, this is a compelling read. The Santana/Daelyn aspect was a little unbelievable. Trust me, I’ve been there, I’ve been drawn within myself and bitter and hopeless, and nobody pursues you to the point that Santana pursued Daelyn. After a while, they stop trying to open you up. And when they reveal Santana has cancer? Please. Figures that the one boy who follows her to the ends of the earth is extremely ill.
‘By the Time You Read This…’ isn’t for everyone. Depressing for some audiences, annoyingly one note for others, the book is best suited for people who have been lowered into the abyss of depression, either by traumatic life experiences or their own inner demons. You’re more likely to enjoy the book if you can relate to Daelyn to some extent. Which I did. Her downer attitude was exasperating at times, but that’s what bullying does to a person. Please. Bullying is not, and will never be cool. Don’t fuck with people.

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Flight: A Novel by Sherman Alexie

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“Call me Zits,” states the disaffected, acne-afflicted anti-hero at the beginning of Sherman Alexie’s fast-paced, compulsively readable novel ‘Flight.’ Zits, an fifteen-year-old Native American orphan, is shipped off to yet another foster home when he gets into a fight with his foster father and physically attacks him. He is sent to Juvie but escapes with a charismatic boy he met in jail, who brainwashes him into committing a violent crime. In the midst of shooting up a bank, ZIts is shot in the head and transported back in time for reasons unknown to him.

Zits enters the bodies of five different characters, from a mute Indian boy fighting for his life during Custer’s Last Stand to a white pilot grappling with his guilt in a modern day setting. Along the way, Zits sees the intrinsic violence and anger that resides within humanity and the futility of revenge and blame-placing. By the end of it, he is changed for the better- but is it too late?

I already knew Sherman Alexie was a talented writer from back when I read “The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian,” but what I didn’t expect was to be completely transported by this book. Let me put it this way- usually it takes me weeks to get through a book (I’m a slow reader) and I finished this in two days. “Flight” was funny and made my heart hurt at the same time. You can’t help feeling for this boy, although for all intents and purposes he is not a very sympathetic character (he lies, steals, sets fires, and kills.) He’s never known ‘home’ or ‘family’ or ‘love,’ and most of his foster parents are just in it for the money.

I know it’s a cliche, but he’s built up resistance against an uncaring world. I know nothing about Indian history yet I never felt lost or stupid reading this book, it’s that accessible. The writing is at once conversational and literary; there is no hint of smut or trashiness in the narrative. The events leading up to the shooting are pretty rushed, but that just gets the reader to the fantasy element quicker. It also builds up a sense of confusion and disorientation, Zits doesn’t really know why he wants to commit the crime, all he knows is that he hurts and he wants to make others hurt as he has.

“Flight” is harsh, heartbreaking, strong, unsentimental, and tough. It’s protagonist doesn’t know what he wants, and his fresh, angry voice drives the narrative at breakneck speed. I want to read all of Sherman Alexie’s works now. When I’m reading Alexie, it doesn’t matter than I’m not in the know about poverty or reservation life or Native American woes, because his themes are pretty much universal. I highly recommend this book to all those that like good fiction.

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