Thursday, July 16, 2015

Review: Life, Animated

Do you like Disney movies? Do you like scientifically accurate terminology and complex social issues? Do you enjoy books that make you cry openly in public settings? Boy, do I have your next read all lined up... 

Life, Animated: A Story of Sidekicks, Heroes, and Autism, by Ron Suskind, is a biographical account of one father's journey, as he discovers the ability to connect to his autistic son, Owen, through the power of the Disney movies and characters that the boy loves.

Because I'm going to have trouble getting through this review without getting overly emotional, let's start with the structural parts, and my few dislikes. Foremost, the writing style is kind of overly formal in a couple of distracting ways. The vibe is also very East-Coast-y, and a little bit pretentious sometimes, which interfered with the accessibility of some of the more technical aspects to the medical side of the story. However, I think that all of that just goes to the fact that the author, as it says on the cover, is a Pulitzer Prize winning journalist, and I've got to figure that just kind of comes with the territory.

I guess I should point out one of the inherent personal aspects of my connection to this narrative: my family is Hardcore Disney. As in, we're the jerks who scoff at casual fans of the Parks and movies, absolutely dominate at Disney Scene-It, and god forbid anyone gets a character/setting/movie's name wrong, or mis-quotes a movie line. We're annoying and obsessed, and we revel in it.

Hence, why I definitely recommend this book to other Disnerds. It perfectly touches on the emotional cores to the Disney canon, on which my own moral sense is founded, and demonstrates them as a means of making a very confusing reality a little more translatable to Owen's sensibilities. It was honestly so exciting to hear about some of my favorite Disney movies providing a touchstone for Owen to hold on to, and hearing about how he enjoyed the Parks, too, just made me smile.

(Besides, there are very few of us who enjoy 2004's Home on the Range, so we've got to stick together.)

And I think the whole "eldest sibling" effect plays into it as well... some of my favorite parts about when Owen was really young, included hearing about the relationship he had with his older brother. I'd like to think that I've been there to stick up for my sibs about as well as Walt stuck up for Owen. Just one of the many elements of this book that made me get a little misty-eyed...

Ooh, boy, did this book make me weepy. And not just at any kind of climax at the ending - though I did tear up there, too - where it would have come into play in any other book, but just at the various stages of development with Owen, throughout the course of the novel. Seeing him learn and understand - and Suskind himself learn and understand - was a pretty powerful thing.

I've recommended this to three friends so far, fans of both Disney and of crying, and I hope they take the chance to read it. Coming into Life, Animated, I didn't know a whole lot about autism, and the ways that the subject is tackled and treated in the book made a complex disorder at least that much more accessible (as accessible as it can be).

And even beyond that, it's a powerful tale of the lengths we'll go to to connect with the people we care about... and make sure, like Stitch said, "Family means nobody gets left behind."

Final Verdict: This book finds its strength in strong emotional ties, and a complete and context-placed narrative of mental disorders that aren't easy explained otherwise. Fans of both Lisa Genova's Still Alice and Disney movies should definitely pick up a copy.

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