Reviewed by Magdalena Ball
I’m Not Broken: I’m Just Different
By Linda Brooks
2009, paperback, $aud31.75
Aspergers syndrome is part of the spectrum of autism, and often involves difficulty in social interaction, repetitive behaviour patterns along with intense, almost obsessive focus on particular areas of interest. That’s the clinical definition and there are plenty of books out there that provide information on what Aspergers is and how to deal with it. Although there is plenty of excellent advice in Linda Brooks’ I’m Not Broken: I’m Just Different it’s not a guide. It’s the story of a mother and her personal experience in raising her boy Bronson. Told in a series of nearly self-contained vignettes, the book has a poetic and humorous approach, taking the reader through key moments in the author’s relationship with her son as she raises him on her own, coaches him through the school years, his music and into adulthood. The book is rich with detail, conversations, and perceptions about both parenting and Aspergers, and contains chapters from a variety of experts, including Bronson’s therapist Dr John Miller, to Asperger’s Expert Professor Tony Attwood. There are also brief chapters from Bronson’s friends, brother, godmother, and family counsellor. At times the book is intense, full of powerful pathos and the inevitable frustrations as Brooks struggles to come to grips with the indifference and outright hostility of those around her, from school to her family and her fight to help her son achieve his potential. At other times the book is inspirational, offering advice and encouragement to other parents in similar circumstances, and even more general advice on parenting and unconditional love:
Once, as I looked at Bronson with pride and thought how much he was worth, and valued because of all that he was and all that he was striving to be, I had the fluttering unexpected feeling that I was looking in a mirror. And the swell of pride I felt for him, I allowed to flow for me. I fought for him because I believed in his worth. I had begged, pleased, pushed and pulled him here. So I must be worth all that as well. I hadn’t just helped him climb his mountain. I had climbed mine. (168)
Above all though, the book is full of Brooks’ iconic humour, sometimes to the point of being laugh-outloud funny, as in the reprints of actual letters she has sent to various departments asking for help, including the Australian government and even Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, or the way she outwits the neighbourhood bullies by making use of the caller identification number on her telephone. No matter how bad things get, and they get pretty intense at times, is there any self-pity, or reprisals against any of the people who made life harder. Throughout the book there is a overwhelming sense of gratitude for, not only the privilege of being given such a beautiful challenge, but also for the growth that Brooks was able to undertake herself. Above all this book is the story of a journey – both for Bronson, and perhaps more powerfully, his mother, and their transition from disabled victims trying to get by, to super-abled victors changing the system and creating art and meaning in ways that open doors for others. This is a beautifully written book that will particularly resonate with those who have experienced a disability, especially parents, but is also a good solid inspirational story that will be enjoyed by anyone who has struggled through difficult odds.
Review first published as Book Review: I’m Not Broken: I’m Just Different by Linda Brooks on Blogcritics.
About the reviewer: Magdalena Ball runs The Compulsive Reader. She is the author of the poetry book Repulsion Thrust, the novel Sleep Before Evening, a nonfiction book, The Art of Assessment, Quark Soup, and, in collaboration with Carolyn Howard-Johnson, Cherished Pulse , She Wore Emerald Then , and Imagining the Future. She runs a monthly radio program podcast The Compulsive Reader Talks.