When I plucked Love Anthony off my to-be-reviewed shelf and turned to the first page, I had no idea what to expect. The picture of a little boy playing happily in the sand suggested carefree summer days at the beach and childhood insouciance so I was expecting a lightweight, feel-good read. I certainly wasn't expecting a heart-rending novel that would leave me pondering what I had read long after I'd turned the final page. But that was what I got.
The front cover displays the words "Love without condition ...". This made me think of a mother's love for her child, possibly romantic love too, but I wasn't expecting to discover the poignant tale of a mother trying to deal with the aftermath of a broken marriage and the loss of her autistic child. The three huge themes - bereavement, marriage breakdown and trying to comprehend the constant unknowns of bringing up a child with autism - are dealt with with insight and compassion..
I often think that autism continues to be a bit of a taboo subject, even in today's world where most stigma related to various other mental conditions such as depression, eating disorders or self-harming, to name but a few, have been blown apart. As a parent and teacher, I still have no idea how to deal with a child with autism or their parents. In our local park, there is a little boy who I assume has autism (I'm no expert and I've never asked) and when he starts behaving in a way that has many parents muttering under their breath and casting judgemental looks - the shouting, the refusal to get off the slide and go home, very occasionally pushing other children out of the way - I never know whether it's best to offer the mother a friendly smile or just let her get on with it and keep out of her space. Another teen who I think must be autistic lives on the way to Pierre's school and he often walks out of his house just as we walk past. He always wants to shake hands with me and his mother always says "No, you have to stop shaking hands with everyone" which leaves me totally confused as to what I should do - shake his hand or not ? I'd love a guide on how to teach/deal with children who have autism - that may sound silly but we have loads of similar guides on strategies to use in the classroom for working with the deaf children in our school. But one of the lines that most struck me in the book was "when you've met one child with autism, you've met one child with autism". There is no one-size-fits-all user manual and Olivia, the heartbroken mother in the story, shows just how tough it can be for the parents of an autistic child to cope.
But the book is not just about autism, it has much more far-reaching, universal themes such as friendship, marital strife and understanding the meaning of life. At times, it reminded me of an episode of Desperate Housewives, with the book club girls sharing their highs and lows and sticking together for better or worse, even without the marriage vows to cement their friendship. There is even a slight paranormal twist, with a healthy dose of scepticism thrown in if that doesn't float your boat.
Even without any personal experience of dealing with autism, it totally sucked me in and broke my heart. (Part of me wondered, in fact, if it wouldn't be too close to home for anyone actually living with autism in their own lives.) But the message at the end of the book is one of hope and harmony. It's one of those books that made me want to start reading it all over again as soon as I'd finished it.
star rating : 4.5/5
RRP : £12.99
- Hardcover: 320 pages
- Publisher: Simon & Schuster UK (27 Sep 2012)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1471113256
- ISBN-13: 978-1471113253
- Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 16 x 3 cm
Disclosure : I received a review copy of the book.
Other reviews you may be interested in :