Friday, March 22, 2019

Book Review: Hello, Stranger

By Sara Steven

Barbara Moran has never known how to be good.

As a child, she made strange noises, fidgeted constantly, and licked her lips until they cracked. She had "upsets" that embarrassed and frustrated her family. Worse still, she developed friendships with inanimate objects--everything from roller skates to tables to an antique refrigerator--and became obsessed with images of cathedrals.

She was institutionalized, analyzed, and marginalized, cast aside as not trying hard enough to fit in.

But after almost forty years, Barbara was given an answer for her inability to be like, and to connect with, other people: autism.

Hello, Stranger is the story of a misunderstood life that serves as an eye-opening call for compassion. Bracingly honest, Barbara describes the profound loneliness of being abandoned and judged while also expressing her deep yearning simply to be loved and to give love. (Synopsis courtesy of Goodreads)

Reading about Barbara’s experiences proved to be an eye opener for me. I have a brother who is autistic, and he doesn’t have the ability to verbalize his thoughts or feelings. I’ve never heard him speak a single word. So much of my childhood consisted of trying to figure out what he needed, to go by his reactions, the emotions he’d display, and I couldn’t help but imagine that so much of what Barbara references from her own experiences could easily pertain to my brother.

While my brother’s diagnosis had come during the mid 1980’s, a time when I still feel there was so much to learn and understand about autism, Barbara’s childhood, teen years and much of her adult years were spent in the dark, shuffled between doctors who had no clue as to why she behaved the way she did, attempting to ply her with medications that only made her suffer more. All in the name of “progress”. Often, when she couldn’t become or live up to the person they’d wanted her to be, they would blame her. That she “acted up” on purpose. This was a hurdle we’d also faced with my brother, who would often behave in certain ways that was not relatable or accepted by many.

The friendships with inanimate objects really spoke to me, considering the toys or random artifacts my brother would carry around, depending on whatever was interesting to him at the time. One time, it was pencils, piles and piles of pencils he’d store inside a bag, and he’d take them out, one by one, focusing on the minute details of wood and graphite. There was the short-lived connection with balls; rubber, fiber, leather. All shapes and sizes, kept safe inside a carrier made of netting. There were many other connections he’d made with objects over the years, and while Barbara’s connection with her own special objects may sound far-fetched, I understand it. For her, this was a means in keeping sane during a time where her life was chaos, and a way for her to have someone (or something) that may have cared about her. It made me wonder if my brother had those same emotions about his own objects.

What so was motivating about Barbara’s story, was her ability to survive during the most difficult time in her life. Not only was she not living up to what “normal” had been perceived as, but she wasn’t sure who she was, or where she fit in. As the synopsis indicates, it’s an honest look into one woman’s struggle in finding her identity, while opening the eyes and hearts of those who had a narrow view on what being different means. Research has come such a long way since those days, and even since the time my brother had been diagnosed, with much more compassion and understanding. It was nice to verbally hear a voice, one that could very easily be that of my brother’s.

Thanks to KiCam Projects for the book in exchange for an honest review. Hello, Stranger can be purchased here.

1 comment:

Dianna said...

Sounds like you could really connect with this book! I've worked with many students on the autism spectrum over the years. I'm so glad autism is better understood nowadays, compared to when I was young! I do wonder why it's so prevalent in today's world, though.