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Alexus Higginbotham
ENG 100
Lisa Williams
05 September 2018
Book Review
Robison, John Elder. Look Me in the Eye: My Life with Asperger’s. Crown Publishing Group, 2007
I. What is the significance of the title, and what can we conclude from the title before opening the text?
The phrase “Look Me in the Eye” was not only commonly heard by John Elder Robison throughout his life but is also a representation of the unorthodox habits he displays. The choice to use the word “eye” rather than something more general, such as “face”, suggests the reason behind the demanding tone. John struggles to make direct eye contact during conversations often leading people to believe he is being disrespectful and, when he was younger, that he was not behaving properly. The same notion of being improper is shown in the cover. While most book titles are capitalized, this is not the case. On the cover the title is printed in all lower case, thus breaking the expectations of the reader such as John broke the expectations of his family during conversations.
The cover contributes even more to the first impressions of this book. In the photograph a boy is wearing an old-fashioned, red, checkered shirt paired with a classic, short haircut. These elements help the reader infer that the boy is John as a child. Another important aspect of the photograph is the facial expression. The intensity of the boy’s eyes being shut seems to be in defiance to the title yet not in a way that resembles a temper tantrum. The accompanying frown indicates that the child was fearful or sad rather than angry.

II. What is your gut reaction to this text, and why did you react this way?
To say the least, my gut reaction to this book is hope. Contrary to my current reaction, when I had chosen this book I had a negative mindset due to the negative image on the cover. I had expected the story of a person with Asperger’s who had a difficult life. While I had expected this I had also expected advice on how to raise a child with Asperger’s or just how to raise a child with autism in general. As I continued to read I discovered I was wrong yet I was also right, horrible incidents did occur but the way John had dealt with them in a way so that things eventually worked out. Not only this but by telling his story I received some answers as to how to help a child with similarities to John’s condition. These elements combined kept me reading. Eventually things became better in his life and inspired me to finish the book.
This book has offered a decent amount of insight into my little brother Logan’s world. While he has a different form of autism I was able to make comparisons between the two, thus satisfying my reason for choosing the book. The book even gave me hope that Logan will grow up to have a satisfactory life, like John, especially considering John seems to have experienced similar yet worse events compared to mine and Logan’s life. This book is the only book I’ve read so far that has touched my life on a personal level, I can definitely say I’ve had a positive experience with this book.

III. What is the most important event or passage in the text and why? How does this event help to develop major themes of the book?
While there are a few candidates for the most important event, in my opinion the birth of John’s son, Cubby, was the most influential and life-altering experience for him. Having a child allowed John to teach the lessons that he had to learn the hard way. This would in theory allow Cubby to skip the bullying and awkward situations John experienced. In order to better Cubby’s social skills at a young John and his wife at the time had carried him around to show him to interesting people (222.) Having a child also gave John a constant companion, he would have someone would have the same interests as him and who would love him. This contrasts to John’s parents for a large amount of time. John could’ve followed in their footsteps and abused or neglected his child but instead he chose to be better than them and to correct their earlier mistakes.

IV. What dominant themes run throughout the text? How are these themes developed throughout the book? Give some examples of rhetorical strategies that develop these themes. (EX. anecdotes, hyperbole, researched facts, contrasts, comparisons, etc.)
A primary theme throughout this overcoming adversity. John learns to cope with a broad range of issues including relationship troubles to abuse from his father. Also included in this range of experience is his search for social acceptance and the expected failures. As he grew up he compared and contrasted himself to “normal” kids. Realizing that something about him was different from the rest influenced him to change how he conducted himself in order to conform with society. John eventually learned how to carry on a conversation with other people rather than a string of incomplete thoughts and he learned how to treat people to prevent the other person from becoming mad or to make friends.

V. Chose a paragraph from the book that uses diction in an important way. Copy the passage and then describe and analyze the author’s diction and how it helps you understand the themes of the book.
From chapter twenty-four, “A Diagnosis At Forty”, on page two hundred thirty-eight, “To be fair, Asperger’s syndrome was not recognized as a distinct condition in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, the bible of mental health professionals, until fairly recently, when I was in my thirties. The upshot was that I spent many years adapting to a condition I didn’t know I had. Learning about Asperger’s was truly a life-transforming experience.”
Robison’s diction in this paragraph shows how he feels about discovering he had Asperger’s and how it hadn’t been a widely known condition. The use of the word “bible” in the first sentence implies that mental health doctors might only use that specific book and none other like a Christian would stick to the Holy Bible. You can conclude that if this book is not up to date with recently discovered or uncommon illness then neither will the doctor thus contributing to the possibly irritated tone in this paragraph. This irritation is carried into the second sentence when John realizes that he was “adapting to a condition he didn’t know he had.” He seems slightly upset that growing up he didn’t have any guidance as to how to control his habits or how to better socialize, he had to experience and figure out everything the hard way. While inconvenient, I believe that John is not angry. The last sentence contains humorous irony about the situation. John described the process of diagnosis as a “life-altering experience.” This is ironic because while this is news to John it is not literally not life-altering especially considering the topic is a condition that has taken hold since birth. The humorous nature of the statement can lead the reader to the conclusion that John holds no resentment.

VI. Discuss the kinds of research carried out by the author of this book. What is the evidence of this research in the book?
In the foreword by Robison’s brother, Augusten Burroughs, and in the Author’s Note it is explained what research John conducted before publishing his memoir. In the Author’s Note John explains that while he cannot remember every detail as a child he can reconstruct events and conversations based on memories around that time or about that topic (ix.) In the Foreword, Augusten reveals that John had gotten the idea of writing a book about his life from emails between the two and that before John had started writing he had completed a document over two thousand pages long. That email sent by John contained the research he done on the family history as well a family tree (xiv.) John’s consulting with family as described in the Author’s Notes is seen in the Epilogue where he talks with is mother about how certain events are told or how she was portrayed in the book (280-281.) It can also be inferred that John had talked to Dr. Finch about the visits with his parents or to his former friend Jim Boughton for details on the chemical spill that started a massive fire in chapter 11, “The Flaming Washtub.”

VII. Would you read another book by this author or about the subject of this book? Why or why not?
I would read another book by Robison because of his unique point of view on social expectations. He interprets certain social cues or body language differently as compared to someone without Asperger’s. This particularly draws me in because I often have thoughts that contradict what everyone’s and I value another person’s opinion that breaks away from social norms. I also find the subject of this book interesting to me because it relates to a condition that my younger brother has. I would definitely read more books on the topic of Asperger’s or any other form of autism in order to potentially learn more about Logan by making more connections and reading about how each author dealt or deals with certain aspects of autism.

VIII. What qualities of the main character of the book do you admire the most? The least? Why?
I admire John because he has certain qualities I could never have. One characteristic I’m actually quite jealous of is how he bonded so well with his little brother Christopher, later renamed Augusten, when he was born. In my case when Logan was little I never connected with him. I had tried once a little while after he was born, I had asked to feed him some baby food but my parents had said no and I felt discouraged. Sadly, after that point I don’t remember anything about his life until years later. John on the other hand had a connection with Christopher basically since birth. The only bond I share with my brother is that of a motherly bond considering my parents are divorced. This forced us to spend more time together and our connection isn’t a friendly one such as Christopher and John’s. Another quality that John possesses that I could never dream of is his ability to forgive people. In the epilogue of the book John has a conversation with his formerly abusive, alcoholic father. John asks his dad if he can remember any good memories between the two considering he couldn’t recall any himself. After John and his father discuss a couple of happy memories John is content with his answer and forgives his dad for his previous mistakes (276-277.) This honestly may have only been the case because his dad was on his deathbed but if I were in that situation the grudge I would’ve held from a lifetime of torture would surpass the temporary joy of reminiscing about memories I couldn’t recall a few minutes before.
While John does have some admirable qualities, no one is perfect. One of his most distasteful displays is throughout chapter twenty-six, “Units One Through Three”, where he proceeds to compare his wife to her sisters in an evaluation to decide whether he chose the “right one.” I personally find this act disgusting, I feel like by doing so he is treating his relationship, with a woman you would assume he loves, like a game. This way of thinking leads me to believe that John is greedy and ungrateful especially considering in the next chapter he goes on to brag about his wife. Another quirk I noticed is his habit of denial. Frequently throughout the novel John denies the whispers of people calling him a sociopath and he had anxiety about growing up a murder. In general, he seemed to want to prove his purity and reject the rumors. This can easily be disputed considering a few events in the book that show an evil side to John that he is oblivious to. One that stands out was his dramatic homicide prank in chapter eight, “The Dogs Begin to Fear Me”. While young boys tend to play pranks it’s not often to see one go as far as this. The fact that he came up with a prank that involved a mannequin posed as dead body with a staged ritual seems frightening. This evil mindset is seen again later in the book when he is reading a book to his son. John turns a harmless rhyme about fish into a demented rhyme about a man with a gun and people running, logically, a public shooting. Neither of those scenarios seem like something a generally good-hearted person would do.

IX. What effect does the book have on your beliefs, thoughts, and/or theories? Explain.
Reading this book has inspired me to be a better sister. I’d honestly be interested in doing more research of different forms of autism and read more memoirs or maybe even blogs about people with different forms of autism to make comparisons to Logan’s form. Logan seems to share a few aspects of Asperger’s yet there are many areas where he and John are very different so Asperger’s may or may not be a good place to start. Either way, experiencing John’s life second-hand has helped me better understand my brother. For example they both feel the need to repeat. John doesn’t understand why he has the urges to repeat statements or ask questions over and over but he does know that if he doesn’t repeat these things then he gets anxiety about it (255.) Logan is still too young to understand how or why he feels certain ways but I have a suspicion that he repeats for the same reason. John eventually found his own tips and tricks about how to get along with other people and how to fit into society better. I believe that one day Logan will find his own tips and tricks as well.

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