Nancy McKibben's Reviews > Love Anthony

Love Anthony by Lisa Genova
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Recommended for: readers who enjoyed Mark Haddon's curious incident book and who like Anita Shreve

Love Anthony
By Lisa Genova

Two women living on Nantucket Island: one, Olivia, a mother whose marriage has crumbled under the weight of the needs and tragic death of her autistic son, and the other, Beth, whose marriage balances on a knife’s edge as she decides what to do about her husband’s admitted cheating. These women do not initially know each other, but by the book’s end they are so intimately connected that each is able to give the other a profound and unexpected gift.

The chief virtue of this book is the ability of the author to give a voice to Anthony, the autistic boy in Beth’s ongoing novel who seems to be speaking for the actual boy Anthony who is Olivia's son. Here he explains why he can’t eat his breakfast, and will instead end up screaming uncontrollably.

I can’t eat two French Toast sticks because breakfast is three French Toast sticks. I can’t eat two because three is finished, and two is stopping in the middle, and stopping in the middle hurts too much. I can’t eat two French Toast sticks because then I won’t ever be done with breakfast. And if I don’t finish breakfast, then I can’t brush my teeth in the bathroom and play with water in the sink. And then I can’t get dressed in dry clothes on the bottom step. And then I can’t go outside and swing. And I can’t have lunch if I haven’t finished breakfast. And Danyel won’t come because she comes after lunch.

If I don’t have two plus one equals three French Toast sticks for breakfast, I’m going to be stuck at this table forever.


Unfortunately, these highly articulate thoughts stay in Anthony’s head, because he is unable to communicate verbally. But as a reader, I found such passages gripping, because they convey so vividly what might be the frustration of a child who thinks differently and cannot communicate that difference.

But all is not angst for Anthony. Although Olivia struggles to cope with the meltdowns brought on by such incidents as only two French Toast sticks, Anthony is happy most of the time. Here he is lying on the deck, looking at the sky:

Looking up at the sky is one of my favorite things to do, especially on a no-cloud day. On a no-cloud day, I stare at the blue sky, and I love it. I stare at the blue sky for so long, and I love it so much, that I leave my skin and scatter out into it, the way rain puddles return to the sky on a hot day.

I leave the boy lying on the deck, and I become the blue sky. I am the blue sky, and I am high above the earth and the boy lying on the deck, and I am floating and free. . .

I look up into the no-cloud sky and I am everywhere connected to all living things. I look down at the boy lying on the deck. He is happy.

Olivia is not so happy. As she grieves the death of her nine-year-old son, she grapples with the cosmic questions: Why was he born with autism? Why was her life with him so difficult? Why was her marriage torn apart? Why does a good God allow suffering? As she looks for answers, she rereads the journal that she kept when Anthony was growing up, and the reader sees how fraught her life with Anthony was.

Meanwhile, Beth has let the occasion of husband Jimmy’s cheating give her a needed push outside her family; she rediscovers her gift for writing and exercises it in writing a novel about an autistic child, inspired by a boy she once saw on a beach (it was Anthony, as we find out later.) So, is Beth writing Anthony’s story? Is she a channel? Will her manuscript show Olivia the answers to all her questions?

The ending will be problematic for some readers, but the book is beautifully written and compassionate, with engaging characters that we care about, and it is certainly outstanding for its treatment of autism. But it’s not just a good book about autism, it’s a good book that happens to have autism in it.


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Reading Progress

January 15, 2013 – Started Reading
January 15, 2013 – Finished Reading
January 16, 2013 – Shelved
July 20, 2013 – Shelved as: reviewed

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