A Slant of Sun: One Child's Courage
|Publisher:||W. W. Norton & Company|
One of those rare occasions when a stunning literary talent and an important subject come together. As many as one in five children face the challenge of growing up with a behavioral disorder. For Beth Kephart’s son, it was “pervasive developmental disorder”—a broad spectrum of difficulties, including autistic features. As the author and her husband discover, all it really means is that their son Jeremy is “different . . . different in a million wonderful ways, and also different in ways that need our help.” In intimate, incandescent prose, Beth Kephart shares the painful and inspiring experience of loving a child whose “special needs” bring tremendous frustration and incalculable rewards. With the help of passionate parental involvement and the kindness of a few open hearts, Jeremy slowly re-emerges from a self-imposed silence broken only by the echoing of others’ words, obsessive play rituals, pacing and running in circles, and a sheer terror of strangers. Triumphantly, he begins to engage the world, describe his thoughts and passions, and build essential friendships. Ultimately this is a story of the shallowness of medical labels compared to a child’s courage and a mother’s love, of which Kephart writes, “Nothing erodes it. It is not sand on a beach. It is the nuclear heart of things—hard as the rock of this earth.”
The hardest part of being a parent is the certain knowledge that there are some things you can’t control. When Beth Kephart’s son Jeremy was labeled with the unsettlingly vague diagnosis of pervasive developmental disorder (a behavioral disorder related to autism) in the fall of 1991, there were no definitive medical answers, no guidebooks to Jeremy’s inner world, no maps to help Jeremy’s mom and dad lead their boy back into the land of relatively uncomplicated childhood. Jeremy was a beautiful child who screamed whenever strangers came near him and spent long hours every day obsessively rearranging his toy cars into indecipherable patterns. He was an early talker, but by the time of his diagnosis Jeremy’s speech had degenerated into mindless parroting—a condition known as echolalia. Jeremy’s triumph over his disability and his journey to reintegration is the primary story of this beautifully written book, Kephart’s first.
The other story, the more universal story, is the haunting account of the symbiosis between mother and child, which grows particularly intense when a child feels pain from which his mother cannot shield him. Kephart’s fears that her own maternal failings are somehow implicated in Jeremy’s problem stand out as the emotional core of this memoir. Her faith in her son, perseverance, and eventual acceptance of herself play as important a role in his healing process as any course of therapy—and her unflinching descriptions of her own healing are what make A Slant of Sun such a stunning debut. —Patrizia DiLucchio