Monkey Mind by Daniel B. Smith

“Daniel Smith’s Monkey Mind is the stunning articulation of what it is like to live with anxiety. As he travels through anxiety’s demonic layers, Smith defangs the disorder with great humor and evocatively expresses its self-destructive absurdities and painful internal coherence. Aaron Beck, the most influential doctor in modern psychotherapy, says that “Monkey Mind does for anxiety what William Styron’s Darkness Visible did for depression.” Neurologist and bestselling writer Oliver Sacks says, “I read Monkey Mind with admiration for its bravery and clarity. . . . I broke out into explosive laughter again and again.” Here, finally, comes relief and recognition to all those who want someone to put what they feel, or what their loved ones feel, into words.”

I don’t normally review non-fiction, or indeed anything besides science fiction and fantasy.  I felt compelled by this book, though, not only to read it but to write about my experience reading it.  And it’s going to be a hard review to write.

Allow me to explain.

The full title of this book is Monkey Mind: A Memoir of Anxiety.  I was diagnosed with panic disorder back in 1990, so you can imagine my interest in reading a story about someone living with a condition that is so familiar to me.  I didn’t go into it looking for wisdom or advice—I’ve gotten plenty of that over the course of time, useful and otherwise—but I was hoping to see the experience of anxiety through the eyes of another.  Knowing, as I do, that the anxious can be sensitive to criticism, I’m going to have a hard time being honest about how much I disliked this book.

I have no quibble with Smith’s actual experience of his anxiety.  Every person’s struggle with it is different and unique, although there are many symptoms and traits that tend to be similar no matter what.  But for a book that purports to be a “hilarious” look at the tragedies and triumphs, it’s incredibly negative.  I didn’t like the tone that the author often took, which was a cross between a self-deprecating “woe is me, this is all my fault” attitude and looking for anyone and anything to blame for his condition.  He also seems to think that anxiety sufferers are, by their very natures, toxic to those around them.  This is hardly encouraging to any readers who might be having their own issues with anxiety.

Now, a lot of what I just wrote is personal preference, and I freely admit that.  A “memoir of anxiety” needn’t take a positive tone to be successful, by any means.  I do, however, think that Smith’s stated aims in writing the book and what actually came out in the writing were two entirely different things.

Taking a more technical look at the writing, there was a quote from Pride and Prejudice came to mind: “He studies too much for words of four syllables.”  Far too much of the book is taken up with lengthy quotes from Kierkegaard, Philip Roth and the like.  I know that the author has spent a lot of time researching and reading about mental illness—he says as much in this book—and it feels like he wants to work as much of that material into this book as possible.  The quotes often slow down the narrative flow, and after a while, it felt like the author was trying to show how educated and well-read he is.  The story could easily have been written without so much literary navel-gazing.

Structurally, the book is all over the place.  Part of that is due to the proliferation of quotes from other sources, but I think it’s also due to the author trying to link his past and present in a bid to explain his anxiety’s roots.  The story is arranged in roughly chronological order, but there is some jumping around time-wise, and there are many asides about aspects of anxiety that seem shoehorned in at moments where they don’t really fit.  For example, during the section about his time working for The Atlantic, he suddenly goes into a dissertation on sweating.  Maybe better organization would have made this work better, but I don’t know.

I do have to wonder if all of the positive reviews for this book were from people who don’t suffer from anxiety.  After I wrote the bulk of this review, I went onto Amazon to see what others thought, and it does seem that the vast majority of the negative reviews are from people like me—those who live with anxiety.  I found that my reaction wasn’t atypical at all.  Monkey Mind may be a fairly accurate representation of one person’s experience with anxiety brought on by certain specific events, but it does not give a good picture of anxiety to those who don’t already know what it’s like.

This review was originally posted on November 4, 2013.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

The Cactus Eaters by Dan White

“The Pacific Crest Trail stretches from Mexico to Canada, a distance of 2,650 grueling, sun-scorched, bear-infested miles. When Dan White and his girlfriend announced their intention to hike it, Dan’s parents—among others—thought they were nuts. How could two people who’d never even shared an apartment together survive six months in the desert with little more than a two-person tent and some trail mix? But when these addled adventurers, dubbed “the Lois and Clark Expedition” by their benevolent trail-guru, set out for the American wilderness, the hardships of the trail—and one delicious-looking cactus—test the limits of love and sanity.”

So, here’s my dilemma: I hate it when readers allow their perception of the author, or their judgments about an author, influence their review of their writing; however, when reviewing a memoir, you have to make judgments about the author in order to review the content. As a result, this review is going to be mostly content-oriented, which will by necessity include some statements about how I perceive the author. You have been warned.

Let’s start drilling down into this thing from the top. First of all, we’ll look at the writing. Technically, the writing is… adequate. White is often quite descriptive of the landscape through which he passes, and gives a good sense of where he and his girlfriend are. It’s nothing outstanding, though. At times, he almost gets too monofocused on the minutiae of the surroundings and kind of misses the forest for the trees (sometimes quite literally). The author unfortunately gets quite crude at times, dropping profanities and talking about how much he wants to have sex with his girlfriend.

As a memoir of hiking the PCT, this book leaves much to be desired. I realize that California takes up the lion’s share of the trail, but White devotes almost no time to his hike in Oregon and Washington. Even the California portion is more about the ways in which he and Allison screw up—the cactus-eating incident that spawned the title is a prime example. Most of their struggles come about from their own stupidity—seriously, who dumps out their water in the desert?—and there’s little sense that they learn from their mistakes.

Now comes the part that I usually would avoid. As the author writes so much about his own actions and his state of mind during the hike, I feel that it would be remiss not to address that as a commentary on the book’s content and on the author’s choice of subject. And frankly, it boils down to the fact that I view the author as an asshole. He spends the entire book getting angry at his girlfriend for things that are not her fault, he has no compassion for her physical issues (she ends up with rheumatoid arthritis in her knee and he has no sympathy), and he basically uses the trail as an excuse to lose his mind. I mean that literally. He starts talking to trees and rocks, hiding from other people and abandoning any shreds of self-respect. And he revels in this! There’s no sense of regret for how he treated other people (he gives lip service to it, but it doesn’t come across as sincere), and he seems almost proud of his faults, as though they give him character.

In the end, this book doesn’t work as a hiking memoir because the focus isn’t on the hike, and it doesn’t work as a memoir of personal growth, because the author doesn’t grow. Near the end of the book, White has lunch with an ex-girlfriend and she says that he hasn’t changed at all, and she would never have known that he’d just got off a national scenic trail if he hadn’t told her. That’s a pretty accurate sum-up of the book.

Prospective hikers, take note: do not use this book as a guide to a long-distance hike. There are so many better books out there. The Cactus Eaters did nothing but make me disgusted with the author and had nothing new or unique to say about one of the most stunning trails in the country.

This review was originally posted on September 12, 2014.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Alex and Me by Irene Pepperberg

“Alex & Me is the remarkable true story of an extraordinary relationship between psychologist Irene M. Pepperberg and Alex, an African Grey parrot who proved scientists and accepted wisdom wrong by demonstrating an astonishing ability to communicate and understand complex ideas. A New York Times bestseller and selected as one of the paper’s Top Ten Books of the Year, Alex & Me is much more that the story of an incredible scientific breakthrough. It’s a poignant love story and an affectionate remembrance of Pepperberg’s irascible, unforgettable, and always surprising best friend.”

Although this book obviously tackles an ongoing and complicated scientific experiment, Pepperberg never talks over her audience’s heads. Some scientific information is needed to get the context of some of Alex’s tests, but they’re presented simply and concisely. Readers are likely to learn a lot about the process of testing for results in the sciences. And such information allows readers to more fully appreciate Alex’s accomplishments.

There’s actually a lot going on in this book. It covers Alex’s tests during the ongoing experiment, his owner’s journey into a completely unexpected career and where it took her, the response of the scientific community in general over the course of time, and even touches on a few of the other studies going on (such as Koko the signing gorilla). The stories are so intertwined, though, that no one thread usurps any of the others. Alex is the main binding agent in all of these disparate yarns, and the author never loses sight of that fact. This book is, first and foremost, about Alex, and so Pepperberg never deviates far from him and his charming antics.

It’s a smart bit of editing that allows readers to follow Alex’s triumphs in a linear matter, each one building on the ones before it. There’s nothing scattershot about the author’s approach. Maybe having written so many scientific papers detailing Alex’s progress has paid off in this book. The writing is concise yet personable, straightforward yet humorous. I would be surprised if readers didn’t laugh out loud a time or two at some of the tricks Alex pulled on his hapless human friends.

There’s no telling what Alex would have accomplished, had he lived. His death is not only a great loss to the scientific community, but also a great loss to one wonderfully stubborn and creative researcher who was determined to change the world’s definition of “bird-brain”. Read Alex and Me and prepare to be amazed and touched.

This review was originally posted on August 2, 2010.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library Davis Branch.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Left for Dead by Beck Weathers

“In 1996 Beck Weathers and a climbing team pushed toward the summit of Mount Everest. Then a storm exploded on the mountain, ripping the team to shreds, forcing brave men to scratch and crawl for their lives. Rescuers who reached Weathers saw that he was dying, and left him. Twelve hours later, the inexplicable occurred. Weathers appeared, blinded, gloveless, and caked with ice—walking down the mountain. In this powerful memoir, now featuring a new Preface, Weathers describes not only his escape from hypothermia and the murderous storm that killed eight climbers, but the journey of his life. This is the story of a man’s route to a dangerous sport and a fateful expedition, as well as the road of recovery he has traveled since; of survival in the face of certain death, the reclaiming of a family and a life; and of the most extraordinary adventure of all: finding the courage to say yes when life offers us a second chance.”

Ever since I read Into Thin Air by Jon Krakauer, I’ve had a fascination with the 1996 Everest disaster.  It’s not only me that feels this way—if the recent movie Everest is any indication, the tale’s staying power hasn’t diminished with time.  A recent Amazon Kindle deal led me to Weathers’s memoir, which I had heard of but hadn’t read.  Interestingly, this book is less about the actual event and more about Weathers himself, what led him to the mountain, and what happened after he returned.

The 1996 climb takes up the first small section of the book, and then readers get an intimate portrait of what might drive a man to climb a mountain that could conceivably kill him.  That’s a question that many people ask when they read about what it takes to summit Everest, or see a movie about it, or a documentary.  What would drive someone to undertake such a perilous endeavor?  In Weathers’s case, it was depression.

I admire the author for talking candidly about his struggles with depression over the course of many years and how they affected both him and his family.  The book is interspersed with sections by other people in Weathers’s life, most particularly his wife, Peach.  Neither of them make any attempt to hide how difficult it was to deal with what Weathers was going through.  He himself makes no bones about the fact that he climbed mountains because the sheer physical effort drowned out the blackness that he often felt.  He’s also unflinching in admitting that he never considered asking for help with what he was feeling.

Much like Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, Left for Dead focuses more on the person than on the physical feat, but unlike Strayed, Weathers doesn’t appear to wallow in his issues.  Rather, he faces them with the clarity of hindsight and never lets himself off the hook for the damage that he did to those he loves.  For this, I truly admire him.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Sex in the Museum by Susan Forbes

sex-in-the-museum“Sarah Forbes was in graduate school when she stumbled upon a museum dedicated to . . . sex. The anthropology student hesitated when her boyfriend suggested she apply for a job, but apply she did, and it wasn’t long before a part-time position at New York’s MUSEUM OF SEX lead to a gig as the museum’s curator. That was over twelve years ago. Now Sarah—a married mother of two—proudly sports her title as Curator of Sex.

In SEX IN THE MUSEUM, Sarah invites readers to travel from suburban garages where men and women build sex machines, to factories that make sex toys, to labyrinthine archives of erotica collectors. Escorting us in to the hidden world of sex, illuminating the never-talked-about communities and eccentricities of our sexual subcultures, and telling her own personal story of a decade at The Museum of Sex, Sarah asks readers to grapple with the same questions she did: when it comes to sex, what is good, bad, deviant, normal? Do such terms even apply? If everyone has sexual secrets, is it possible to really know another person and be known by them? And importantly, in our hyper-sexualized world, is it still possible to fall in love?”

This book popped onto my radar due to a review in Publishers Weekly magazine.  Prior to that, I had no idea that there was a museum dedicated to sex (although having visited museums dedicated to things like hand fans, you’d think that I’d expect the unexpected).  Giving in to curiosity, and glad that I was reading this as an e-book so that no one could see the cover, I purchased it.

As memoirs go, this one is quite good.  This isn’t just a dry recitation of what exhibits the museum  has hosted, nor is it merely Forbes’s life story with a few titillating details from her job.  The author weaves her professional and personal stories together with great skill while also emphasizing how much she worked to keep those two different sides of herself from colliding.  Since she got her degree in gender studies, the joined “plotlines” paint a fascinating portrait of how men and women are perceived in today’s society and over the course of time.

Don’t get me wrong, though… there are plenty of eyebrow-raising facts and stories peppered throughout the book.  Readers meet porn collectors, burlesque performers, and people who make dresses out of expired condoms.  Kinks are talked about, fetishes are examined, and odd chastity devices are featured.  My favorite bit was a word that I’d never heard before: teledildonics, “loosely defined as the integration of computer-controlled technology with the goal of helping achieve sexual stimulation and orgasm”.  I was not aware that this word (or this concept) existed, and I’m not sure what to do with this knowledge, but I’m glad to know it.

I do have two minor complaints about this book.  First, I would have loved a recommended reading list at the end.  The author mentions several books that sounded kind of interesting, and it would have been nice to have a list compiled instead of having to hunt through the text for them.  Second, I feel like the last part of the book was a little rushed.  Forbes does a lot to parallel her dating life to her life at her job, but after she gets married and starts a family, there is little to see comparing her pregnancies to her work.  Given how well she integrated her life with the museum in earlier chapters, I think it was a missed opportunity not to explore what, essentially, happens after sex.  Maybe the museum has never done an exhibition on fertility and sex?

Otherwise, I found this book to be immensely enjoyable.  Other than the bit of rushed pacing at the end, the narrative flowed well and balanced the “OMG SEX” factor with real information on how a museum works and the behind-the-scenes looks at the people who make it happen.  Don’t let the subject matter put you off, because this is a great memoir!

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Girl in the Woods by Aspen Matis

girl-in-the-woodsGirl in the Woods is Aspen Matis’s exhilarating true-life adventure of hiking from Mexico to Canada—a coming of age story, a survival story, and a triumphant story of overcoming emotional devastation. On her second night of college, Aspen was raped by a fellow student. Overprotected by her parents who discouraged her from telling of the attack, Aspen was confused and ashamed. Dealing with a problem that has sadly become all too common on college campuses around the country, she stumbled through her first semester—a challenging time made even harder by the coldness of her college’s ‘conflict mediation’ process. Her desperation growing, she made a bold decision: She would seek healing in the freedom of the wild, on the 2,650-mile Pacific Crest Trail leading from Mexico to Canada.

In this inspiring memoir, Aspen chronicles her journey, a five-month trek that was ambitious, dangerous, and transformative. A nineteen-year-old girl alone and lost, she conquered desolate mountain passes and met rattlesnakes, bears, and fellow desert pilgrims. Exhausted after each thirty-mile day, at times on the verge of starvation, Aspen was forced to confront her numbness, coming to terms with the sexual assault and her parents’ disappointing reaction. On the trail and on her own, she found that survival is predicated on persistent self-reliance. She found her strength. After a thousand miles of solitude, she found a man who helped her learn to love and trust again—and heal.”

Being an amateur hiker, it’s not that big of a stretch for me to enjoy reading hiking memoirs.  My introduction to the genre was Bill Bryson’s excellent A Walk in the Woods, which set the bar pretty high in my mind.  In the following years, I found other great memoirs like Suzanne Roberts’s Almost Somewhere and Barbara Egbert’s Zero Days.  Most people, when you ask them to name a hiking memoir, will mention Cheryl Strayed’s Wild, which was a decent book, if a bit overly heavy on the internal drama for my taste.  Of course, every memoir has its own focus, but I’ve found that the ones that work the best, in my opinion, have a good mix of the details of the hike itself, as well as the hiker’s inner experience.

I might have been more forgiving of this book had it come out before Wild, but since it didn’t, there’s no way to avoid comparisons with Strayed’s book.  And for me, this book suffers in the comparison to both Wild and just about every other hiking memoir I’ve read.  This book is heavy on the drama, heavy on the internal maundering indulged in by Matis, heavy on the seemingly stubborn refusal to learn anything from the constant inner turmoil.

I find it hard to criticize the author’s writing in this manner.  She was a rape victim, and everybody heals from such an experience at their own pace and in their own way.  I simply want to note that while I admire Matis’s openness about her thoughts and experiences, she doesn’t write herself in such a way as to get readers to empathize with her.  Perhaps a different approach, or a different form of editing, would have brought these elements across to the reader more skilfully.

I also felt that, with regards to many things in this book (but not the rape), the author’s credibility is in question.  Here’s what I mean: throughout this book, Matis talks about the mistakes she makes on the trail and the times that she nearly got into serious trouble due to lack of water, lack of food, or lack of navigation skills; however, she also claims to have walked the John Muir Trail on her own a year or two before this hike.  The JMT is one of the most remote trail sections in the High Sierras, and the author apparently walked it without incident.  She would also have us believe that she had previously walked 1000 miles on the PCT, also without incident.  Yet, at the time of this memoir, she had no more skills than an absolute beginner, and no ability to judge how much food and water she would need for the High Sierras.  I find it hard to believe that someone who had supposedly never dressed themselves before could successfully hike a thousand miles of wilderness.

On a technical level, this book again needed a stronger editor.  I’m sure it was a stylistic choice, but the constant use of strings of clauses joined by commas got on my nerves.  Because they were so clunky, they would often pull me out of the narrative because I’d be trying to parse out exactly what the author was saying.

As far as I’m concerned, this is neither a good hiking memoir, nor is it a good example to give to young women considering going into the wilderness.  Stick with Suzanne Roberts–she’s a much better role model.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Goodreads.com.)

Elena Vanishing by Elena and Clare B. Dunkle

elena-vanishing“Seventeen-year-old Elena is vanishing. Every day means renewed determination, so every day means fewer calories. This is the story of a girl whose armor against anxiety becomes artillery against herself as she battles on both sides of a lose-lose war in a struggle with anorexia. Told entirely from Elena’s perspective over a five-year period and cowritten with her mother, award-winning author Clare B. Dunkle, Elena’s memoir is a fascinating and intimate look at a deadly disease, and a must read for anyone who knows someone suffering from an eating disorder.”

I appreciate the opportunity to read books like this, because I always want to understand things that are unfamiliar to me.  In this case, it’s the mindset of someone suffering from anorexia.  When I was growing up, someone that I knew had problems with eating, and while I don’t think it was anorexia, it certainly took its toll.  For me personally, as someone who deals with an anxiety disorder, I have times when my anxiety is so high that it makes it hard to eat, but again, it’s not anorexia.  What drives someone to believe that starving themselves is a viable course of action?

Elena is completely forthcoming in this memoir about her struggles, not sugarcoating anything and definitely not hiding anything.  In the afterward, she states that the memoirs that she read about anorexia usually tried to show the brightest side of it or to highlight the hope of recovery.  Because of this, Elena decided to enlist the help of her mother, an established author and her staunch supporter through her sickness, to write this book.

I found this book to be incredibly hard to read.  Elena’s viciously critical inner voice is as much a character as Elena herself, and the reader isn’t spared the cruel way every little action is judged in the harshest possible light.  In some respects, it reminds me of the voice of my own anxiety telling me that everything will turn out bad, but in other ways, Elena’s thoughts are far beyond anything that I have gone through.  For me, the worst of those parts of the tale were kind of triggering, but they also forced me to examine how well I deal with my own inner critic.

It was also hard to read because there are times that you just want to take Elena by the shoulders and shake her.  How can someone do this to themselves and their family?  I’m willing to bet, though, that this is exactly what Elena wanted to convey–not only her own frustration, but that of those close to her.  Be prepared going into reading this, because it’s not easy.

And that’s why I think it’s an important book to get into the hands of teens.  For one thing, it will show them that they’re not alone in what they’re feeling and thinking.  For another thing, it will make them aware of the horrible consequences of not seeking help if they themselves are going through it.  Elena’s language is evocative and hard-hitting, and it spares you nothing.  Kudos to Clare Dunkle for taking Elena’s story and helping her to transform it into a memoir of such power and pain.

While I won’t say that I enjoyed this book, I did deeply appreciate reading it.  Elena Vanishing is a book that all teens should have access to.

This book was borrowed from the Yolo County Public Library, Davis branch.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)

Complications by Atul Gawande

complications“In gripping accounts of true cases, surgeon Atul Gawande explores the power and the limits of medicine, offering an unflinching view from the scalpel’s edge. Complications lays bare a science not in its idealized form but as it actually is–uncertain, perplexing, and profoundly human.”

I work at a college bookstore, and every quarter I see this book on our shelves, being used by several writing courses and several different professors.  Having an interest in science myself, I finally decided to pick it up and see what a bunch of writing teachers found so fascinating about it.  The answer is: a lot.  This book is less of a memoir and more of an exploration of a puzzling dichotomy.

On the one hand, Gawande explores the mindset of the surgeon as someone who must have confidence in their decisions and in their diagnoses.  He details some of the training he received as a resident, learning procedures that he had previously only read about in textbooks. and carrying them out with at least the appearance of knowing what he was doing, even as he fumbled through the first few times.  Every doctor starts somewhere, and something as simple as putting in an IV must be learned at a teaching hospital under supervision.  Readers get a feel for how these young people develop the know-how and trust in their own abilities to go forward on their own.

On the other other hand, the author is up front about the fact that medicine is an inexact science and mistakes are made.  He discusses his own mistakes without sparing himself, but also without emotional self-flogging.  He admits that sometimes diagnosing an illness or injury is dependent on factors beyond anyone’s control, and that this can lead to tragedy.  He doesn’t seem to be doing so with the intent to scare; rather, he comes across as giving readers an honest assessment of the all-too-human people who take our lives in their hands.

Gawande manages to take these two very different views of doctors and marry them into a thoughtful and insightful look at the reality of surgery and critical care.  He goes into cases that stumped everybody who came across them, injuries that baffled surgeons with their suddenness and severity, and the occasional triumph when a hunch proved life-saving.  Gawande proves that he not only has the writing chops to tackle this subject, but he has the self-awareness to delve deep and explore the subject in a way that is both honest and respectful.

Now I understand why so many of our professors assign this book.  There’s a huge amount of skill on display in the writing, both in the technical aspects and in the storytelling.  If you have any interest in science, or in the realities of medicine beyond what you see on TV shows like ER, pick up this book.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from Amazon.com.)

Laughing At My Nightmare by Shane Burclaw

laughing-at-my-nightmare“With acerbic wit and a hilarious voice, Shane Burcaw’s Laughing at My Nightmare describes the challenges he faces as a twenty-one-year-old with spinal muscular atrophy. From awkward handshakes to having a girlfriend and everything in between, Shane handles his situation with humor and a “you-only-live-once” perspective on life. While he does talk about everyday issues that are relatable to teens, he also offers an eye-opening perspective on what it is like to have a life threatening disease.”

I was reading the children’s/young adult recap issue of Publishers Weekly when I saw the starred recommendation for this book.  I’ve been trying to read more non-fiction, just for variety, and it sounded like a funny and enlightening read.  A few minutes later, I was downloading it onto my Nook and dove right in.

Boy, they’re right when they say it’s a no-holds-barred biography.  Burcaw talks with incredible candor about aspects of living with a disability that I’m sure everyone is curious about but would never dare to ask about.  And it’s not just the bodily functions that people want to know about (although I’m sure that’s a lot of it), but the effects of his disease on his family, because how can we imagine what it would be like to have a family member so dependent on us?  I give mad props to his parents and brother, because if everything he says about them is true, they’re extraordinary people.

Quite apart from the more lurid parts (how does he use the toilet anyway?), the author does an excellent job at giving readers a sense of his condition’s progression.  It’s one thing to say “I have a disease where my muscles waste away”, but it’s quite another to realize that this means being unable to chew food without pushing your jaw up with your hand.  He also delves into the mindset of constantly adjusting to his deteriorating body.  The sections where he has difficulty breathing or weeps over the thought of his death are some of the most affecting parts of the narrative.

Burcaw talks a lot about his attempts to live as normal a life as possible, and he describes going to parties and hanging out with friends.  He has girlfriends; he goes to dances; he applies to college.  He goes through all of the normal “milestones” that teens everywhere experience.  Of course, as the book progresses, Burcaw has to take an honest look at what it means to be “normal” and adjust his thinking accordingly.  Even so, there are times that he seems to denigrate others with different varieties of developmental disabilities, and that made me a little uncomfortable.

In a way, the structure of the book contributes to some of my discomfort: Burcaw sometimes seems to be pounding on how much time he spent thinking of how to fit in and make people like him, and while I can certainly understand the feeling, hammering on it just comes off as self-absorbed.  I think that if the author had structured the book so that each chapter tackled specific aspects of his disability, instead of trying to tell a chronological story that ended up skipping around time-wise, it might have flowed better.  I’m pretty sure it would have focused the information so that his need for acceptance didn’t permeate so many page.

For the most part, I enjoyed this book.  It gave me a good look at a life that I would never have known about otherwise, and I appreciate his frankness and willingness to open his life and thoughts to the world.

This book was a personal purchase.

(Description nicked from B&N.com.)