Thursday, January 24, 2019

In The Spotlight ~ A Fiction Novel Review With A Focus On Autism


I was going to do a review for this book on Amazon but for some stupid reason, it won't let me do any reviews unless I've spent $50 or more through them in the last few months. I really don't 'get' that. For those of us who don't shop a lot on there but want to review awesome books we've read, it's a bit of a pain in the butt. So, we're going to do this review here. Your loss, Amazon. 😛

Every year on Boxing Day, my big reader kids and I go over to Chapters rather than all the nicknack, electronics, furniture and similar 'Blow Out Sale' places. For us, there is nothing more exciting than to walk into the bookstore and have tables stuffed with great reads for us to grab up at greatly reduced prices. I have one daughter who loves a specific form of Fantasy and looks for her favorite authors. My youngest likes more 'real-to-life' books that she can relate to on some level. And I go straight for the psychological thrillers, suspense, well-crafted YA and the occasional memoir. Forget the high some people get buying a brand new 65" tv they don't even have room for. We're all about awesome books that are reduced to $5 or even getting 3 for $10!

Yes, we are self-proclaimed bookworms who'd rather absorb ourselves in a great story than to sit mindlessly in front of a grossly oversized television that will most likely break down at some point. No apologies from us. 😉

One of the books I came across was 'Girl In The Dark' by Marion Pauw. I was instantly drawn by the cover because it was simple, clean and totally represented the description on the back. (That's a reader tip for my fellow authors. When I purchase a book as a reader, that's what sells it to me.) What put it in my 'taking home' pile was that one of the main characters, Ray, is an adult living with Autism. The other main character, Iris, has a son who she is overwhelmed trying to understand but later realizes through meeting Ray that her son is also Autistic.

Iris is a single working mother. Her job as a lawyer is draining enough but then having to deal with issues involving her son (eg: phone calls from daycare about his behavior, his reactions to certain things, difficulty in calming him when he reaches meltdown level, etc.) often leaves her with a feeling of insecurity of whether she's mothering the way she thinks she should. Ray has been accused and sentenced with murdering his neighbor, Rosita, and her daughter, Anna, even though he continuously claims he's innocent. The difficulty in believing his innocence is that his reactions and behavior often come across as rage and violent when, really, he's just reacting to not understanding situations the way he should.

Each chapter in the book focuses on one character or the other so we can see how the events are seen through each person's perspective. Another vital character to the plot is Iris' mother, Agatha, who seems to have a lot of well-kept secrets from her past that she'd never shared with Iris. One mystery was why a woman who seemed so emotionally distant from everything and everyone would not only have such a special bond with Iris' son, Aaron, but why she maintains an aquarium full of exotic, rare fish with such diligent care. Iris initially assumes it's because Aaron seems to calm himself when he gets to sit and watch the fish, but she learns that the aquarium actually means a lot more and is a direct connection to the part of Agatha's life she's guarded so closely.

Through a bit of super snooping, Iris makes the discovery that Ray is actually her brother who Agatha had sent away. Even after confronting her mother, Iris is never given any clear answers, leading her to believe that Agatha has a lot more to hide than she was letting on. When Iris finally meets Ray, she offers to re-open his case, hoping that a fresher investigation would reveal what truly happened to Rosita and Anna. Agatha's anger with Iris' obsessive need to find the truth, only fuels Iris to continue her digging. And when she finally learns the entire truth, all that she and Ray had endured their entire lives finally makes sense.

Yes, this is more of a teaser review because anything I actually reveal here could possibly ruin the suspense for those who want to read it. All I can say is that the book was very well written. There aren't many authors who can switch points of view (POV) successfully and not harm the plot in any way. In fact, I really can't see this story being told in any other way. We need to 'see' both sides until they are expertly brought together. Iris gives the reader the perspective of the well-functioning eyes who is able to understand and process the information she comes across, while Ray is who went through everything and has all of the answers, even though he is completely unaware of his knowledge, but isn't able to process or communicate that information effectively enough to help himself.

The characters are represented well and believable, the dialogue is 'real' and even the internal dialogue, particularly Ray's, is so vivid. So many people still don't understand 'invisible' conditions like Autism, or even take the time to understand that these individual's thought processes and thinking are very different from others. And with the right tools, support and guidance, they are able to function in our world right along with their peers.

I enjoyed this novel very much as a mother, as a reader and as an author. As a mother of children with special needs who aren't always 'seen' because of their unusual behaviors or reactions, I appreciate and can relate to Iris. As a reader, I appreciate the realistic approach to including a subject such as Autism in a way that isn't 'right in your face', but sparks enough interest that would make me want to learn more. And as an author, I am impressed with Marion's attention to the details that truly create a great suspense read.

I highly recommend this book and, maybe, we can have the author join us here very soon.

Happy reading!

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