Featured Reviews:

Reviewed by Chris Gabbard, University of North Florida

Winter 2008, Volume 28, No.1

Reasonable People by Ralph Savarese, a professor of English at Grinnell College in Iowa, can be distinguished from many of the other memoirs by parents of children with learning disabilities by its lack of what disability rights activist Harriet McBryde Johnson would term “sentimental pap.” As Savarese states, “This is not a Disney story.” The book’s first fifteen chapters — gripping reading — delineate how Ralph and his wife, Emily, adopted DJ, a boy with … Read More

'Fresh Start' Begins for a Life with Autism
by Mike Kilen

I reached the elegant 1896 home of Ralph Savarese early and circled the block past Grinnell College, wondering why I was anxious about going in. I’d done thousands of interviews over the years with arrogant doctors and lawyers, media-weary celebrities and politicians, threatening convicts and crack addicts on the street.

Savarese is a creative-writing professor at the college, but the atmosphere would be thick with expectations. He is sensitive to how others speak to his son and how they generalize … Read More

by Donna Chavez

By his own admission, Grinnell professor Savarese never wanted to have children, which makes his memoir of his and wife Emily’s autistic adopted son, DJ, all the more poetic a demonstration of achieving much more than one thinks one can. This applies as much to DJ, whom Emily met while she was assistant director of a center for autism and related disabilities, as it does to the Savareses. At two and one-half, DJ couldn’t talk, he perseverated (repeated actions), and … Read More

The Essentials: May, 2007

What everyone should be talking about: Why Ralph James Savarese and his wife would adopt a 6-year-old with autism is the subject of the new memoir REASONABLE PEOPLE. That it manages to avoid both polemic and cliche is reason enough to applaud.

Home Is Where the Heart Is
by Eve Conant

We’re told to pick our battles if we want to make a difference in the world. Activist and writer Ralph James Savarese thought he and his wife, Emily, had done just that. For her it meant working with a Florida center for disabled and autistic children. For him it meant writing and teaching college students about responsibility and social obligation. But in the late ’90s they found themselves forgoing these larger causes for the smaller one staring them right in … Read More

The Joy of Autism

by Estée Klar

Ralph Savarese’s book Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption is a heart-wrenching memoir of autistic abuse, abandonment, adoption and durable love. Ralph, who is an English Professor at Grinnell College in Iowa, writes about his family’s arduous journey to adopting DJ who has been separated from his “neurotypical” sister, Ellie. Their biological mother, Rhonda, a substance abuser, is in and out of their lives and later creates obstacles in the process of adoption. During Rhonda’s absences, Ellie was … Read More

Steve Godard’s History Wire

Autism, which has burst into public consciousness in the last few years, is known as a spectrum condition, in which people exhibit autistic behavior along a scale from high functioning to low functioning. Writer Ralph James Savarese, the adoptive father of 12-year-old DJ, is the latest to pen a saga of what it’s like to live with autism.

One keen insight Savarese brings to the table is that autism is universally perceived with reference to average human beings as the … Read More

Autism’s Edges

A is for...

A is for…
analysis and
all night . . .

when I stayed up reading Ralph James Savarese’s A-list account of his adoption of DJ, a six-year-old boy abandoned by his birth parents because of his classic autism and their own emotional impairments, then cast adrift in the rough, unforgiving seas of the American foster care system.

At four in the morning, just shy of three-quarters of the … Read More

For a long time, I refused to buy any books with the dreaded “A” word in the title (that pesky magical thinking again). Somehow the idea of having them in the house made our suspicions, and then the emerging reality, seem more intense. But the ice had to melt, and eventually I broke down and bought Greenspan’s The Child With Special Needs, and then The Out-Of-Sync Child, desperately trying to understand how our son was like the children described in … Read More

Body + Soul Magazine

Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption is poet Ralph James Savarese’s tale of adopting an abused, non-speaking boy, then using love and patience to help his son grow into his full self. A moving memoir, it calls for “living with conviction in a cynical time.”

Savarese, a writer and professor at Grinnell College, writes a moving account of his family’s adoption of DJ, an abused, autistic youngster. Throughout, he describes the process of helping DJ communicate with the world and discusses larger issues of the rights of people with neurological differences. Savarese’s wife, an autism professional, first encountered DJ when he was only two and a half; by the time they could adopt him, three years later, he’d lived in several homes and been badly … Read More


by Kristina Chew

A black hole.

That is the image that Ralph Savarese opens his forthcoming book Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism and Adoption with. He writes:

To many experts, the non-speaking Autist resembles the old version of a black hole: swallowing everything, emitting nothing; forever hidden, never to be revealed.

To be autistic and to be non-verbal was once, Savarese suggests, to be a kind of human black hole, a bottomless, empty, mysterious nothingness that took in information and stimuli and … Read More

by Kay Marner, a mom by birth and adoption, who works in the public library in Ames, Iowa.

I’ve never been able to find the right words to describe life with my daughter, Natalie. We adopted her five years ago, and she came to us with special needs—ADHD, Sensory Processing Disorder, and various other issues. My mantra—”she’s easy to love, but hard to raise”—is inadequate in describing either the intense love and joy or the chaos and exhaustion she’s brought to my life.

Reasonable People: A Memoir of Autism & Adoption, by Ralph James Savarese (Other Press; $25.95), … Read More

Planet of the Blind

On Poetry and the Politics of Breathing
by Stephen Kuusisto

“My name is DJ and I am taking a trip of a lifetime.”

The line above appears in the journal of DJ Savarese who is the co-author of the memoir Reasonable People which has just been published by The Other Press. The sub-title of the book is as important to culture as the title itself: “On the meaning of family and the politics of neurological difference”. This timely book is about the Horatian life, “Life” written with a capital “L”. … Read More

Autism Society of North Carolina Bookstore

Reasonable People in an Unreasonable World

I just finished reading Ralph Savarese’s Reasonable People, and I can’t remember the last time I read a book that made me think about so many difficult things all at once. The book is told memoir-style, telling the story of what it has been like thus far for Savarese and his wife, Emily, an autism inclusion expert, to raise their adopted son, DJ. However, though the main tale is that of life with DJ, Savarese uses this as a platform … Read More