“The miracle of friendship can be spoken without words... hearing unspoken needs, recognizing secret dreams, understanding the silent things that only true friends know.”
- Author Unknown
Lois Lowry is an accomplished children's and young adult author. Many may know her from her Anastasia series, or her many other books. But The Silent Boy is special, as it delves into life in the early 1910s, and a special friendship between a precocious girl, and a boy who, while this is unspoken in the book, clearly is on the autism spectrum.
My dear friend Katherine aka the GFCF Mommy inspired me to read this book, and I am glad she did. It is, in many ways, a tragic tale, a tale of how ASD children were viewed 100 years ago (and sadly, are still in many ways viewed the same way today). But it is also a tale of hope, because there is always someone who cares and, in many ways, understands. There is always someone who is willing to go out on a limb and become a friend. And even though nary a word is spoken, the understanding is there.
I do not want to tell too much about the story, as to give it away. Rather, I will let Lois Lowry tell it herself, in the liner notes from the back cover of the book:
Precocious Katy Thatcher always knew she wanted to be a doctor like her father. She joins him on his rounds and has a keen interest in the people around her. She is especially intrigued by Jacob, a gentle, silent boy who has a special sensitivity toward animals. While Jacob never speaks to or looks at Katy, they develop an unusual friendship and understanding. the townspeople dismiss Jacob as an imbecile. Katy just thinks of him as someone special who has a way of communicating with the animals through his sounds and movements.
And only Katy comes to realize what the gentle, silent boy did for his family. He meant to help, not harm. It didn't turn out that way.
While it is disturbing to hear the townspeople's views of Jacob, even more disturbing is the words of some of the reviewers of this book. Reviewers have called referred to Jacob as "retarded", or "mentally backwards". In the book, Ms. Lowry refers to him as "touched," which is probably the correct term given the lack of knowledge of autism spectrum disorders back then.
As the parent of an ASD child (about the same age as Katy in the book), I can relate to this story in many ways. I have seen the difficulties my daughter faces in forging friendships, even though she is quite verbal and high functioning. I have seen her mocked because of her peculiar behaviors, by children and adults who do not understand. And I have seen her retreat into her own silent world, when things get too much to bear.
I have also seen her heart of gold, and her attempts at doing the right thing that are often misunderstood.
This book is written for juveniles and young adults, but I think adults would find this book interesting to read as well.
I would highly recommend this book. It is well worth reading.
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