Sunday, June 28, 2009
With the Light, vol. 1
When it was first published in English, I actually gave this book to a good friend who is a special education teacher in an elementary school, and she loved it. This is my first opportunity to read the book in its entirety.
The story: Sachiko is a new mother and her son is the light of her life. Appropriately named Hikaru, Japanese for "to be bright," she dotes on him, but begins to notice he's different from other babies. Hikaru doesn't like being held or touched, is indifferent to many noises and is behind developmentally. When Sachiko takes her son to a specialist, Hikaru is diagnosed with autism. While Hikaru's disability has been identified, this is only the beginning of his and his family's story.
Reaction: I cried at least twice during the first few chapters of this book, as it's so hard to watch Sachiko's constant self-punishment for her son's disorder. When things get really tough, Sachiko finds herself alone and wondering what to do. Thankfully, soon enough, she learns new skills and how to best reach Hikaru as his "most important person." Eventually, she builds a strong support system for her son and her family via school, other students and their families, and social welfare programs.
Deep thoughts: It's amazing to see how much has changed in the nine years since With the Light was originally published in Japan. Back then, little was known about the disability and there was little to no public awareness of what autism was worldwide. Now, there are many parents, especially celebrities in the U.S., who have worked to raise awareness of autism and advocated for those afflicted with it. Since the cause of autism is unknown, and there's still no explanation for the recent increase in diagnoses, more research is being done every day to help better understand this brain development disorder.
Artwork: Given the subject matter, everything in With the Light is very realistically drawn. While I usually complain about its heavy-handed use, Keiko Tobe has done a really great job using screentone in order to impart emotions of the characters, particularly Sachiko. By emphasizing particular scenes, giving it a "lightness" or "darkness," the screentone gives an indication of the feeling being expressed. This can help the reader better understand the characters, which is especially important considering Hikaru has little to no emotional expression. Tobe also does a great job of aging the children appropriately, which can be hard to with such a large cast of children.
The verdict: Highly recommended. This is an amazing book that is a helpful resource for anyone who has contact with an autistic child. But, it's also a poignant story of a dedicated mother and her efforts to help her son live as normal a life as possible and to help him grow up to be "a cheerful, working adult." By the time I finished this book, I found myself wondering why I hadn't read it sooner! With the Light is available in the U.S. from Yen Press.