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Eli Gottlieb's Best Boy

GottliebI have read so many reviews of current and upcoming fiction, about children on the autism spectrum. Best Boy offers a different perspective. The main character, Todd Aaron, is in his 50’s. He was placed in a therapeutic residential setting when he was 11, long before autism was understood, or diagnosed. Todd is a likeable, curious autodidact who consults Mr. B. (the Encyclopaedia Britannica, which he reads endlessly) or Mr. C (the computer he turns to when Mr. B. doesn’t have the answer).

Thanks to a regimen of medication (that leaves him feeling “dull”) and supportive staff members at his residential facility, Todd functions well in his world. He has earned the fond title of “the Old Man” of his community, and he is selected to serve as an Ambassador who welcomes visitors and new residents. All is well until a new staff member starts working at the Payton Living Center. This new hire reminds Todd of his abusive father. Family secrets rise to the surface, and it is revealed that Todd has one remaining brother who calls but rarely visits. Todd’s fondest wish is to go home – if not to the house he grew up in, then to the home of his brother and wife and their children. Unfortunately, “an incident” some years past prevents his brother’s family from opening their arms to him. The author skillfully metes out small pieces of Todd’s backstory, which makes us appreciate Todd and his situation more and more as the book goes on.

This novel has been selected as an Editor’s Choice by The New York Times, a notable book by The Washington Post, and one of the Top 10 Books of 2015 by Library Journal. Originally published last year in hardcover, Best Boy is now available in paperback.

In an interview, author Gottlieb says that this story is informed by years of visiting his own special needs brother in various residential treatment facilities. The author has recently become his brother’s legal guardian.

I like this book’s unique perspective on adults on the autism spectrum, and I appreciate the author’s first-hand knowledge. A good story, this will be a great book for book club discussions. 

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