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 was generally unresponsive. Worse, he had been neglected, abused, and abandoned when his birth parents and several foster parents wrote him off as too much to handle. Armed with clear principles on how children with autism ought to be cared for, Emily and Ralph started to work with DJ, eventually adopting him. Their road together continues to be rough, but today the preteen boy attends mainstream classes and, as the final, in-his-own-words chapter confirms, possesses marvelous perceptive and communicative skills. Savarese’s careful melding of memoir and passionate advocacy for the disabled informs and inspires.