Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Differently Wired - Deborah Reber

Title: Differently Wired: Raising an Exceptional Child in a Conventional World
Author: Deborah Reber
Publisher: Workman Publishing, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 278 pages
Genre: Adult; Parenting
Started: August 16, 2018
Finished: August 21, 2018

From the inside cover:

Today millions of kids are stuck in a world that doesn't embrace who they really are. They are the one in five "differently wired" children with ADHD, dyslexia, giftedness, autism, anxiety, or other neurodifferences, and their challenges are many. And for the parents who love them, the challenges are just as numerous, as they struggle to find the right school, the right support, the right path.

Written by Deborah Weber, a bestselling author with a twice-exceptional son, Differently Wired is a revolutionary book - weaving together personal stories and a tool kit of expert advice, it's a how-to, a manifesto, and a reassuring companion for parents who can so often feel that they have no place to turn.

At the heart of Differently Wired are 18 paradigm-shifting ideas - what the author calls "tilts," which include how to accept and lean in to your role as a parent (#2: Get Out of Isolation and Connect). Deal with the challenges of parenting a differently wired child (#5: Parent from a Place of Possibility Instead of Fear). Support yourself (#11: Let Go of Your Impossible Expectations for Who You "Should" Be as a Parent). And seek community (#18: If It Doesn't Exist, Create It).

Taken together, it's a lifesaving program to shift our thinking and actions in a way that not only improves the family dynamic, but allows children to fully realize their best selves.

As soon as I saw an ad for this book on Shelf Awareness (which is an awesome newsletter that everyone should read), I knew I had to read this. Not only was I not neurotypical as a child, I'm raising a daughter who is neurodiverse as well. Being differently wired in an age when people expected me to shut up and deal with it, and raising a differently wired child in an age of increasing awareness to conditions like these gives me a rather unique perspective on things. Not only does this author perfectly capture what it's like raising a neurodiverse child, but she also nails the mindset needed not only to survive the unique challenges children like ours pose, but to help our kids thrive.

This book is an awesome choice for all readers regardless of what diagnoses their children do or don't have purely due to the first section: explaining the different kinds of conditions that fall under the umbrella of neurodiversity, like ADHD/ADD, giftedness, learning differences, autism, twice exceptional, anxiety, sensory issues, etc. Despite the fact that 1 in 5 kids are neurodiverse (a number that is spot-on in my experience as a teacher), stigma and misconceptions still run rampant in regards to these labels, which I've experienced first-hand, to the point where I've had to spell out certain things at my own daughter's IEP meetings, and listened in horror as colleagues would spout the same stereotypes about gifted kids in our workroom. For reasons like these, I'm glad the author included this first section.

Later on in the first section, the author goes on to describe several unique challenges families like these experience. It was as if the author had read my mind and written directly from my own parenting experiences: being afraid your child would get kicked out of pre-school, the financial strain of having to pay for your child's assessment out-of-pocket, the anxiety of worrying how badly others are judging you and your child for behaviour they can't always control, lack of choices enjoyed by other families, and the utter isolation you feel. Reading this chapter would be quite eye-opening if I wasn't already living it, so if anyone is faced with a judgemental individual who dismisses your family's experiences, just direct them to chapter three of this book.

The second part of this book is one that isn't quite as relevant for me at this stage in my parenting journey since I already had to come to terms with most of the "tilts" through baptism by fire so to speak, but would be really beneficial for someone just beginning the process with a toddler or pre-school aged child. The "tilts" are 18 ideas to live by for parents raising a differently wired child:

1: Question Everything You Thought You Knew About Parenting
2: Get Out of Isolation and Connect
3: Let Go of What Others Think
4: Stop Fighting Who Your Child Is and Lean In
5: Parent from a Place of Possibility Instead of Fear
6: Let Your Child Be Their Own Time Line
7: Become Fluent in Your Child's Language
8: Create a World Where Your Child Can Be Secure
9: Give (Loud and Unapologetic) Voice to Your Reality
10: Practice Relentless Self-Care
11: Let Go of Your Impossible Expectations For Who You "Should" Be as a Parent
12: Make a Ruckus When You Need To
13: Align with Your Partner
14: Find Your People (and Ditch the Rest)
15: Recognize How Your Energy Affects Your Child
16: Show Up and Live in the Present
17: Help Your Kids Embrace Self-Discovery
18: If It Doesn't Exist, Create It

Most of these are pretty self-explanatory, but the author does delve into details for each one. She does operate from a place of privilege for some of these though, particularly in regards to talking about options for schooling, but at least she recognizes it in her writing. Almost all the anecdotal evidence comes from parents who either homeschool or send their child to a specialized school that supports differently wired students. Not only do many of these schools simply not exist in many areas (I wish they did in mine), not every family can afford private school or give up an income and homeschool their differently wired child.

Some of the tilts I still haven't completely mastered yet are relentless self-care and finding your people. I still have to make an effort to schedule things for myself so I don't explode from the stress, but I'm working on it. In terms of finding our people, my issue is with the "ditching the rest" part, as I find it hard to let go of past friends or family members who don't care enough to be compassionate about our experience.

If you're already a seasoned parent of a differently wired child, you'll love the shared experiences to be found in this book. If you're a parent just starting on this challenging journey (or perhaps a concerned friend/family member/teacher), you'll definitely want to pick this up.

Thoughts on the cover:
I love the red and white colour scheme, and the image of the kid going off the path to make a snow angel is an apt metaphor for a neurodiverse kid.

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Only Child - Rhiannon Navin

Title: Only Child
Author: Rhiannon Navin
Publisher: Alfred A. Knopf, 2018 (Hardcover)
Length: 288 pages
Genre: Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: August 8, 2018
Finished: August 8, 2018

From the inside cover:

Sometimes the littlest bodies hold the biggest hearts, and the quietest voices speak the loudest.

Squeezed into a coat closet with his classmates and teacher, first-grader Zach Taylor can hear gunshots ringing through the halls of his school. They've practiced lockdown drills before - it was fun and exciting then. But this time it's not a drill. A gunman has entered the school, and in a matter of minutes he will take nineteen lives and irrevocably change the fabric of this close-knit community.

While Zach's mother pursues a quest for justice against the shooter's parents, holding them responsible for their son's actions, Zach retreats into the healing world of books and art. Armed with his new insights, and the optimism and stubbornness only a child could have, Zach becomes determined to help the adults in his life rediscover the universal truths of love and compassion they need to pull them through their darkest hour.

Only Child introduces readers to not one but two remarkable new voices: that of Zach Taylor, the precocious gentle narrator, and that of author Rhiannon Navin, who breathes life into him with the compassion, honesty, and humour of a natural storyteller. Dazzling and tenderhearted, Only Child teaches us all to "see through the noise of our adult lives, back to the undeniable truth of childhood - kindness begets kindness" (Bryan Reardon, author of Finding Jake).

As both a teacher and a mom (especially one who was a teenager during Columbine), school shootings are a paralyzing thing to read about. As a mom, I think immediately of my own six-year-old and the instinct to keep her safe (I cried when she first started lockdown drill practices in her school), and as a teacher the sickening thought that if my own class were ever involved in one, that I would most likely be killed trying to protect them.

Only Child is the story of six-year-old Zach, who survives a school shooting that claims the life of his older brother, Andy. Zach's story opens with him already in the closet as the shooting begins. The author grabs your interest right away with achingly real descriptions of what a class of six-year-olds and their teacher would be doing and feeling once they start to realize the "pops" they're hearing are actually gunshots. The teacher swears in her frustration trying to unlock her phone to call 911, kids are puking from fright and being confined in a closed space, Zach hones in on the smells and the sounds (which will later be PTSD triggers for him) because he literally can't do anything else. The chaos of the aftermath was wonderfully done too: the blood-stained clothes, the confusion, kids trying to wait for their parents and parents trying to figure out where their children was so hard to read, but I have to give the author credit for a realistic portrayal.

The author not only handles the event of the shooting with realism, but also what happens after the families return home. I actually liked how the author addresses through Zach the idea that sometimes we have conflicting thoughts about people who die: Andy had ODD and was a challenging child who was a jerk to his little brother most of the time, and Zach calls out his parents when they gloss over that at the funeral and at the interviews that follow. The loss of a child is something that very few marriages manage to survive, so the aspect of the parents' relationship is depicted as well.

I fell in love with Zach as a narrator, he's not only lovable but realistic as well, reading his thoughts sounded like my six-year-old daughter talking. There is only one thing I take issue with regarding the author's portrayal of Zach: there is no way a six-year-old is mature enough to do some of the things Zach is depicted doing. Zach obtains all his information about the shooting through the news reports on TV and the iPad afterwards, requiring an impressive amount of reading. Now, this is plausible for some strong readers at six, my own kid surprises me at the complexity of words she can actually read on her own still months away from turning seven. But the author goes out of her way to mention that Zach isn't a particularly strong reader like Andy, who was tested as gifted and read the Harry Potter series at Zach's age. Zach also uses art and colour to illustrate his feelings, pairing up colours to match the mood he's in, completely on his own. That kind of concept would be difficult for some kids to understand, and for a six-year-old boy to just decide to do that completely on their own is something I have trouble believing.

This is the emotional equivalent of getting hit by a train...times ten. Beware, you will ugly cry and need a box of tissues, but it's so worth it.

Thoughts on the cover:
It's very plain, but the seemingly random colours do tie into Zach's use of colour to describe his feelings: green for anger (like the Hulk), yellow for happy, grey for sadness, red for embarrassed.

Sunday, August 5, 2018

How to Build a Girl - Caitlin Moran

Title: How to Build a Girl
Author: Caitlin Moran
Publisher: HarperCollins, 2014 (Hardcover)
Length: 338 pages
Genre: Adult; Realistic Fiction
Started: July 28, 2018
Finished: August 5, 2018

From the inside cover:

What do you do in your teenage years when you realize what your parents taught you wasn't enough? You must go out and find books and poetry and pop songs and bad heroes - and build yourself.

It's 1990. Johanna Morrigan, fourteen, has shamed herself so badly on local TV that she decides that there's no point in being Johanna anymore and reinvents herself as Dolly Wilde - fast-talking, hard-drinking gothic hero and full-time Lady Sex Adventurer. She will save her poverty-stricken Bohemian family by becoming a writer - like Jo in Little Women, or the Brontes - but without the dying-young bit.

By sixteen, she's smoking cigarettes, getting drunk, and working for a music paper. She's writing pornographic letters to rock stars, having all the kinds of sex with all the kinds of men, and eviscerating bands in reviews of 600 words or less.

But what happens when Johanna realizes she's build Dolly with a fatal flaw? Is a box full of records, a wall full of posters, and a head full of paperbacks enough to build a girl after all?

Imagine The Bell Jar - written by Rizzo from Grease. How to Build a Girl is a funny, poignant, and heartbreakingly evocative story of self-discovery and invention, as only Caitlin Moran could tell it.

After reading the sequel to this book, How to Be Famous, I figured I'd give the first instalment a try. How to Build a Girl is a hilarious read for sure, but I much more enjoyed How to Be Famous. 

Fourteen-year-old Johanna lives in an overcrowded, low-income housing unit in Wolverhampton in the early 1990s. After she both humiliates herself on local television and accidentally gets her family kicked off their welfare benefits, she reinvents herself under the pseudonym of Dolly Wilde and gets a job as a music writer for the magazine D&ME. She dresses like a goth, smokes, does drugs, has lots of wild, crazy sex with men she barely knows, all while travelling around interviewing bands. Not only is she trying to help support her family, she's also trying to figure out who she is and what she wants to be, which makes this novel both appealing and a touch bit cliche. Granted, what saves this novel is that Johanna and her family are hilarious to read about. Johanna's not one of those annoying heroines who doesn't figure things out in the event of a royal screw-up, she smartens up and has some real growth.

Not an overall fresh type of story, but funny as all hell, so it's worth the read.

Thoughts on the cover:
I like the continuity between this first instalment and the sequel's covers, very punk and grunge-y.