Always on the lookout for children’s books about Tourettes and other neurological disorders, I was curious when Introducing…Sasha Abramowitz popped upon my search for children’s books on Tourettes Syndrome. I was even more intrigued when I actually got the book from my library. Online, the cover appeared to be a picture book, but it’s really a youth fiction novel. I couldn’t resist, and picked it up to see for myself what it was all about.
Written from eleven-year-old Sasha Abramowitz’s point of view, this is her story about her life with her parents (both professors at their beloved Krieger University), her dog (Tripod), her brother, Danny (who struggles with Tourettes), her babysitter (aspiring magician and college student), and Sasha’s on-and-off again best friend, Carla. Her mother, a professor of neuroscience, and her father, a professor of English, are highly intelligent, caring, and somewhat eccentric. Sasha lives with her parents in a college dorm, where her parents function as dorm parents.
While she leads a happy life (despite her dislike of her middle names, Marie Curie), Sasha has more struggles in life than she lets on. She lived in a “normal” house with her family until she was six, when Danny, struggling with his neuological problems, threatened to blow up the house with pool chemicals. After the pool chemical incident, Sasha’s family sold the house, sent Danny to a school for students with special needs, and moved into the dorm. Sasha’s parents insist on Sasha going to see the college therapist to discuss her feelings about her brother’s problems, much to her disdain.
Through one of Carla’s, many schemes, Sasha is roped into her best friend’s newest business, Drew Hardy and Associates, a sleuthing company. When confronted by a college student, the real Andrew Hardy, who’s hard up for cash and wants to know why other people are asking him to solve mysteries, Sasha unwittingly finds her new babysitter, and ends up wishing Andrew was the older brother Danny never was to her.
Throughout the book, Sasha tries to block Danny out of her life as she runs around with her best friend, trails after Andrew, and goes to baseball games with her father. She’s ashamed of Danny’s Tourettes, and resents him more and more for messing up her life and being an embarrassment to the family. After a terrible accident at one of Andrew’s ball games (He’s the lead player on the college’s pathetic baseball team.), Sasha’s family ends up taking care of Andrew. Around the same time, Danny’s school must send everyone home after a fire, and Sasha is faced with the facts that Danny is her brother and Andrew is not, and Sasha becomes even more frustrated with Danny.
It’s through the unusual friendship of one of Sasha’s classmates that she begins to see that others care about Danny in a way she never imagined they could. Ultimately, when Danny becomes a hero no one expected, saving Andrew’s life in the process, Sasha sees Danny in a new light, and realizes he is worth admiration, even if he’s different from other people.
- I’m a sucker for nearly anything with good voice. The diary style of this story has some of the most delightful voice I’ve ever read. Sasha, one of those little adults stuck in a child’s body, is constantly trying to follow the instructions of her teacher and English professor father, sticking her weekly vocabulary words into her story as she writes it. Despite her flaws (And face it, we all have them!), Sasha is really a sweet, responsible girl. She loves her parents, and does her best to be a good friend, even when her best friend doesn’t.
- The story moves quickly. Not once while reading this did I get bored or feel like the story was dragging. There are just enough side notes and descriptions to paint a rich setting for Sasha’s close-knit community, but enough events to keep everything moving and tied together.
- I like how Sasha’s friend, James, and other people in Sasha’s life, see things in Danny that she doesn’t…and she admits it as she goes. I like the feeling of personal growth in Sasha as the story moves. She’s not a static character by any means, particularly when it comes to people who differ from her. I also like how the author used multiple characters with disabilities to reveal that there are different types of problems families live and love with.
- I like that Sasha’s family is functional, and that Sasha respects and loves her parents. Are any of them perfect? No. They disagree and don’t always get along, like any family, but I feel like too many children’s books today involve families that are abusive and cruel. While those things exist in the world, I think there are ages that don’t need to read all about them yet.
Despite loving the story, my greatest struggle with this book is with Danny’s diagnosis. While he does have Coprolalia, which is a rare form of Tourettes (the kind with swearing involved), and while he does have other symptoms of Tourettes, that’s the only diagnosis they give him. In the story, however, he very clearly demonstrates signs of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and is most definitely somewhere on the Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
For example, he lies in the pool and flips over from his back to his stomach every 90 seconds exactly, counting each second. The incident that sends him to the school for children with emotional problems is where he’s in the pool, and he decides that everyone who tries to get in the pool is a germ or virus of some sort, and he pours all the pool chemicals in, threatening to pee on them and rid the pool of the “contamination” through the explosion that will occur if he does so. Also, Danny shows signs of being a savant. He’s ridiculously good with retaining information, such as baseball statistics, historical dates, and random factoids. Again, this is more in keeping with a child on the Autistic spectrum.
While Tourettes is a neurological disorder, Tourettes is not an emotional problem. It often occurs (comorbidity) with other disorders, such as OCD and Autism, but it is a distinct disorder all its own. Sure, Danny has Tourettes, but while reading and considering all the problems Danny has, Tourettes is one of the lesser problems Danny faces.
Overall, I really liked this piece…as a story. The plot moved, the characters were appropriately round and flat, and I liked how there was more than one character with a disability. The story itself was pretty clean. (There is one reference to college students making out on the college campus, but Sasha is just mentioning it as an aside. She thinks it’s gross.) Compared to some of the stuff I had to read in school, this story shines in terms of appropriateness for children and youth.
Unfortunately, this story doesn’t give an accurate portrayal of what Tourettes really is, inappropriately assigning symptoms from other disorders to Tourettes. We have enough misconceptions about what Tourettes really is in this world. Real children with Tourettes need their friends to understand them, not to learn more assumptions about the disorder.
I think if you were to read this with/to your children or students, it would best be done with an examination of what Tourettes really is, just so they don’t develop a misconception of the neurological disorder. Still, the characters are charming, the story is fun, and you’ll learn some fun facts about Marie Curie and other famous historical figures along the way. This is definitely an interesting read; I just wish it left some information out.
Have you read this book, or have comments you want to share? Please post your questions and comments in the Comment Box Below. We’d love to hear what you have to say! Also, don’t forget that I’ll be sharing more links than usual this week in my newsletter to help with planning a summer for children with Autism. As always, thanks for reading!
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