Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb is an intricate story of a man living with autism. For some reason, this topic keeps coming up in what I’m reading and watching (In A Different Key and Parenthood). Most of what I’ve read or seen portrays childhood autism. This book is one of the few that shows what it might be to have autism as an older man. I found this book to be well-written and thought-provoking about basic human rights.
It’s a coming of age story in a different sense of the phrase because Todd Aaron is a 50-year-old man living with autism. His awakening coincides with the arrival of Martine Calhoun, an unstable young woman with one eye and wild ideas about how to skirt past authority. Martine teaches Todd how to make decisions for himself rather than always being the “best boy” that his mama taught him to be.
It appears that on some level Gottlieb is exploring how the world perceives autism. One key event in Todd’s life was The Incident with his brother’s family. For some time the incident is not discussed but only hinted at as the reason why Todd cannot live with his brother like he wants. Later it is revealed that Todd’s brother’s wife assumed that Todd had the capabilities to watch after her two very young children. Todd doesn’t understand that this is his role and doesn’t naturally assume that role without being told to do so. The children get hurt while Todd is lost in his own world of eating in his very special way. This incident is the one that causes Todd to lose contact with his brother’s family and forces him to stay in the center. The question is left of who was at fault in this situation.
At another time, a worker at Payton LivingCenter seems to think that being autistic means that Todd can’t understand him and will thus keep all of his secrets. He treats Todd as a child and uses him as a means to get the sexual pleasures he wants. Todd is his cover-up because he assumes Todd desires a friend so much that he won’t tell anyone. It’s true that Todd doesn’t initially tell anyone that Mike left him alone while working, but when asked directly from a authority figure, Todd tells what he knows.
I would recommend this book to adults simply because some of the subject matter is sexual in nature and thus inappropriate for young readers. There is nothing sexually explicit, but the references might provoke questions in children. I’d give this book a 3.5 out of 5. It’s well-written, but not awe inspiring for me.