Sunday, December 9, 2012

Guest Book Review: The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas

By Allie Smith

I’m one of those readers who are guilty of judging a book by its cover. Combine that with my personal aversion to cats and this book didn’t have a prayer! But I wear the same Autism Mom badge as the author of this touching memoir and I’m always curious to hear the stories of families like mine. The Cat Who Came Back for Christmas, by Julia Romp, is the story about a single mom and her son George, who has autism, and Julia’s tenacious fight to help her son. It’s also about her personal struggle to emotionally connect with her son. That’s the part of the story that will truly resonate with autism parents.

The unique twist in this story is that after all the special needs schools, years of intervention and attempts by Julia to breakthrough, it was actually a mangy, stray cat that had the most profound impact on George. Almost instantly there was a connection between George and the cat they rescued, named Ben. Jules watched in awe as George cared for and spoke to Ben as if he were his best friend. Since I’m not a cat person, I tend to hold the stereotypical believe that cats are “cold” and don’t display the affection that dogs do. That certainly wasn’t the case with Ben, who seemed to interact with George as if the cat were human.

As the months went on, George began to change. He was able to make a friend and the friendship was reciprocated (not always the case with kids on the spectrum). He participated in neighborhood gatherings. George also talked to Ben about things that bothered him and replied in “cat talk” for Ben, which gave Julia precious insight into her son’s feelings. The most dramatic change was the relationship Julia developed with her son, culminating at one point in a physical embrace that she’d waited a decade for! Can you imagine not being able to hold or hug your child?

One poignant moment occurred during the annual Christmas pageant, when after years of no interest, George finally participated, singing on stage with his peers. When he was done – and believe me, this is HUGE – he sought out his mother in the audience, from the stage, stared into her eyes to make sure she was watching, and smiled at her. As Julia wrote…"Best Christmas Ever!"

Then one day, Ben just disappeared. The anger and sadness that George expressed was heartbreaking. Even worse was the desperation Julia felt as her son retreated into his lonely, quiet shell, while she frantically did everything but move mountains to find Ben. Just devastating. The cat was missing for almost four months. I don’t want to spill where and how they found him, but the when (as spoiled to by the book’s title) was the true miracle…on Christmas! You’ll need a box of tissues while reading about the reunion. It was intense. As a postscript, I have to say, that I really hope this cat has nine lives.

I found the beginning of the book hard to read, as Julia described their life before Ben…and the struggles she went through, knowing in her gut that something was wrong with her son and her quest to get him the proper care he needed. The heath care system and the school system in England totally failed Julia and her son. Shockingly and unconscionably, he wasn’t diagnosed until he was ten years old!
Julia’s writing style is very down to earth, almost as if you were sitting by a fire, listening to her tell you her tale. She expresses her feelings and emotions in a simple and raw manner, which was sometimes painful. But her faith and her iron-willed determination also shine on the page, making her the true hero of her own story.

Thanks to Penguin for the book in exchange for an honest review.

Allie Smith, a former CPA who five years into her career decided that she hated working with numbers and willingly gave it all up to be a stay-at-home mom, lives in suburban Atlanta with her husband and four children. In between carpool, play dates and refereeing the kids, she loves to read and write. The mother of a child with autism, she is currently working on a memoir of their journey.

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