Through the wonderful Sage's Blog Tours, I had a chance to read and review Dance of Joy by Melissa Campbell Rowe and ask her some questions about her book and its topic. Check out my review below or my next post for the interview.
Title: Dance of Joy
Author: Melissa Campbell Rowe
Genre: Adult - Contemporary
Publication: June 19, 2015
Meltdowns. Rejection. Bullying. All of these words are associated with autism. As the story opens, Jeff Howard races to the emergency room to find his wife battered by their autistic son. Jeff’s plans for his success and family start falling apart and the reality is that life is hard. But It’s harder when you have a child with autism. And you can’t run from it. Jeff’s journey from denial to acceptance is poignant and honest. Jeff must let go of his ambitions and embrace a different way to live. To find peace the family must be able to pull together and work as a team to make a better life for them all. Through the process, the family learns some new words to associate with autism: courage, acceptance, and joy.
Find It On:AMAZON // BARNES AND NOBLE // GOODREADS
My Review:Dance of Joy by Melissa Campbell Rowe is a hard review to tackle, I think in part because it was probably a hard novel to write. In essence, Dance of Joy is a lesson in autism - what it is, how to deal with it, how not to deal with it, and how it affects the lives of those around it. Because it is so fact-laden, it is hard to draw the line between the facts and the story - but I think that blending the two is precisely what Rowe did right.
I was initially drawn to this book because my boyfriend is on the autism spectrum (high-functioning Asperger's syndrome). In all the time I have known him, I've had difficulty straddling the line of seeking knowledge and learning to help weighed against just plain offending him. Rowe really tackled this balance head-on with her two main characters: the mother and father of a boy with autism.
Meredith, the mother, is a partial stay-at-home mom with three girls as well as Tucker, a boy diagnosed early in life with autism. For part of elementary school, Tucker functioned normally in a private school classroom with accommodations. During this time, Meredith was able to work as a school teacher, so that level of income and lifestyle became the norm for the family. But when Tucker gets suspended from the private school after an incident of violence, their entire system is uprooted as Meredith must quit her job and commit full-time as Tucker's advocate to get him the education he needs and deserves.
Back to my dichotomy, Meredith is Tucker's voice in the story as Tucker himself is not high-functioning enough to articulate his own needs. Meredith sinks relations with her parents and husband. She burdens her oldest daughter, who is only an early teen herself, with familial responsibilities. She sinks her family into debt with lawyers fees and school tuition. But Rowe's point is that she is doing exactly what needs to be done. If Meredith is not the traditional "protagonist" of the story, she is at the very least its hero, crusading for Tucker's welfare and getting him every amenity he needs in order to live happily and healthily with his disability.
Jeff by comparison almost seems like the bad guy, although as per my interview with Rowe, she considers him to be the protagonist. Jeff is the average layman: he loves his son, but he doesn't love his disability (whereas Meredith loves them as one and the same). The way a new dad might not be able to change a diaper like mom, Jeff has no idea how to deal with Tucker's outbursts, anxiety, OCD, or sensory issues. He is a loving dad and connects to his children in the ways he understands. (Some of the novel's most beautiful scenes are bucolic camping trips where the family bonds over the trials of nature.) But aside from these highlights, Jeff selfishly withdraws into work and away from his wife and son in need, believing his only way to "help" is by making more money to throw at the problem.
I spent of a lot of the book thinking that Jeff was a total a-hole, but amazingly to me, Rowe - who I imagine to be much like Meredith in her personal experiences - wrote this book as an exploration of Jeff, not necessarily of Tucker or Meredith. This dynamic reminds me of the long hours I have sat talking with my boyfriend's mother about his disabilities. Rowe sits her readers down in the spirit of education and forgiveness to teach us how to love people with autism without necessarily having to love their ripples of effect. Every "good" character in Dance of Joy learns something about their lives, and the only "villains" are￼ those who refuse to stop seeing autism as a disease or a time bomb.
Though the writing can be preachy and heavy-handed on metaphors, this is one of the truest explorations of not just a person with autism, but as a snapshot of a family with autism in their lives.
My Rating: 3.5/5
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