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Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir

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Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He couldn't crawl, and he had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family. As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced—he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He couldn't crawl, and he had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family. As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced—he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had violent outbursts. No doctor, social worker, or specialist could pinpoint what was wrong with Noah beyond a general diagnosis: autism. The boys' parents, Josh and Foumi, dedicated their lives to caring for their younger son with myriad approaches—a challenging, often painful experience that the devoted father detailed in a bestselling trilogy of books. Now, for the first time, acclaimed journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld speaks out about growing up in the shadow of his autistic brother, revealing the complex mix of rage, confusion, and love that defined his childhood. Boy Alone is his brutally honest memoir of the hopes, dreams, and realities of life with a mentally disabled sibling. Seamlessly weaving together the social history of autism and autism research—as the Greenfelds lived through it in seeking treatment for Noah—with the deeply affecting story of two very different boys growing up side by side, this book raises crucial philosophical questions: Can relationships exist without language? How should aging parents care for a nonverbal, violent child, and then a grown man who is not self-sufficient? Is there anything that can be done to help an extremely autistic child or adult become a member of mainstream society? Haunting, tragic, and unforgettable, this chronicle of autism is a beautiful, wholly original exploration of what it means to be a family, a brother, and a person.


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Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He couldn't crawl, and he had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family. As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced—he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He couldn't crawl, and he had trouble making eye contact or interacting with his family. As Noah grew older, his differences became even more pronounced—he was unable to communicate verbally, use the toilet, or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor, he often had violent outbursts. No doctor, social worker, or specialist could pinpoint what was wrong with Noah beyond a general diagnosis: autism. The boys' parents, Josh and Foumi, dedicated their lives to caring for their younger son with myriad approaches—a challenging, often painful experience that the devoted father detailed in a bestselling trilogy of books. Now, for the first time, acclaimed journalist Karl Taro Greenfeld speaks out about growing up in the shadow of his autistic brother, revealing the complex mix of rage, confusion, and love that defined his childhood. Boy Alone is his brutally honest memoir of the hopes, dreams, and realities of life with a mentally disabled sibling. Seamlessly weaving together the social history of autism and autism research—as the Greenfelds lived through it in seeking treatment for Noah—with the deeply affecting story of two very different boys growing up side by side, this book raises crucial philosophical questions: Can relationships exist without language? How should aging parents care for a nonverbal, violent child, and then a grown man who is not self-sufficient? Is there anything that can be done to help an extremely autistic child or adult become a member of mainstream society? Haunting, tragic, and unforgettable, this chronicle of autism is a beautiful, wholly original exploration of what it means to be a family, a brother, and a person.

30 review for Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir

  1. 4 out of 5

    Dean

    Greenfeld has written a powerful, maddening book, pitting sentences that are a joy to read against a raw honesty that is almost impossible to accept. It is a work of philosophy as endurance contest. The story of his profoundly autistic younger brother, Noah, is a descent by degrees, the deterioration of a child who begins with all the ordinary promise of his big brother but then slides irrevocably to become a mute and sometimes violent and possibly insane adult. In the burgeoning field of works o Greenfeld has written a powerful, maddening book, pitting sentences that are a joy to read against a raw honesty that is almost impossible to accept. It is a work of philosophy as endurance contest. The story of his profoundly autistic younger brother, Noah, is a descent by degrees, the deterioration of a child who begins with all the ordinary promise of his big brother but then slides irrevocably to become a mute and sometimes violent and possibly insane adult. In the burgeoning field of works on autism, this book is like a hatchet thrown at the canon door. The idea that the best parents cannot save a child is rejected with a kind of violence by the prevailing talk-show culture, but that is exactly what happens here. Noah walks into a relentlessly upbeat field of miracle cures and made-for-TV empowerment and overly moralistic breakthroughs with a terrifying defiance. Most of the growing number of books on this subject are written by celebrated doctors and celebrities and shamen-dudes who address the uplifting and fascinating cases of high-functioning children who just need the right push to find a grip on reality and rise up to lead satisfying lives. As desperately as Karl seems to want this, growing up stoned and alienated in 1970s and ‘80s Pacific Palisades, it refuses to materialize. Instead, Karl’s memoir addresses the ineffable, the humanity that inhabits a well-educated and successful family whose child does not get better. Karl’s father, screenwriter Josh Greenfield, who himself wrote three highly-regarded books on Noah, and his mother, Foumi, who wrote novels based on her experience, do everything that superhuman parents can do: they shatter the prevailing Freudian treatment models that imprison their child, pioneer operant conditioning, create diets and schools and routines for caregivers. They devote 20 years of their lives. And they admit that they fail. With the same honesty and ear for storytelling that has made Karl’s other books and stories such great reads, he rips into one of the most un-American of subjects: helplessness. When the lottery doesn’t hit. When wanting yields nothing. And in the end, he deploys a literary device that is cruel and devastating, driving the point home with a hammer blow. He’s such a good writer that it really hurts – even now, weeks after finishing this book. And for that he’s to be admired. And forgiven.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Lisa

    I would not recommend this book at all, honestly. I understand that being part of the support network for someone with the challenging behaviors of his brother must have been really difficult, but his language towards his brother is really, really disrespectful. He uses the R word, idiot, and crazy multiple times while talking about his brother and other autistic kids. He also assumes, for example, that being nonverbal means his brother probably doesn't have thoughts or memories, instead of that I would not recommend this book at all, honestly. I understand that being part of the support network for someone with the challenging behaviors of his brother must have been really difficult, but his language towards his brother is really, really disrespectful. He uses the R word, idiot, and crazy multiple times while talking about his brother and other autistic kids. He also assumes, for example, that being nonverbal means his brother probably doesn't have thoughts or memories, instead of that he just can't express his thoughts/feelings. Being autistic doesn't mean his brother is less worthy of respect. He also has at least one prejudiced description of a Black woman. I learned a bit about the societal challenges in terms of the lack of facilities and research for people in his brother's condition, and the sad reality that his brother is easily victimized because he's non-verbal. (Though he still manages to blame his brother for his own vicitimization, saying he wouldn't have been abandoned if he hadn't abandoned society first.) The author also has an extended part where he basically imagines what his brother's life *could* have been like if he were only verbal. Going back to reality after that is very grim. It also makes it even more unconscionable that he ends the whole book by saying he basically has to ignore his institutionalized, raped, hurt brother to be happy. He says he somehow can't fully turn his back, but he seems to resent that fact.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Lara

    I asked my pals at HarperCollins for this book because I used to babysit (in college) for two brothers, and one was autistic while the other was not. Although I was a bit on-again/off-again with my interest level on this book, I mostly found it fascinating and heartbreaking...and guilt-inducing, since I quit babysitting the brothers when the autistic one started getting old enough (and big enough) to hurt me when he was frustrated. Boy Alone is also eye-opening, to say the least, with regards to I asked my pals at HarperCollins for this book because I used to babysit (in college) for two brothers, and one was autistic while the other was not. Although I was a bit on-again/off-again with my interest level on this book, I mostly found it fascinating and heartbreaking...and guilt-inducing, since I quit babysitting the brothers when the autistic one started getting old enough (and big enough) to hurt me when he was frustrated. Boy Alone is also eye-opening, to say the least, with regards to the giant holes in care options for the severely autistic - and, in particular, autistic adults.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    Every parent or adult sibling of an autistic person should read this book. Anyone who enjoys brave, raw, honest memoirs should read this book. Greenfeld voices some of autism's dirty little secrets and, though he doesn't really have any answers, it's time someone asked these questions. Every parent or adult sibling of an autistic person should read this book. Anyone who enjoys brave, raw, honest memoirs should read this book. Greenfeld voices some of autism's dirty little secrets and, though he doesn't really have any answers, it's time someone asked these questions.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Rachel

    This book brings home the effect on the family of a child who is severely impaired. It's painful to see how Greenfield's family life was shaped by his severely autistic brother, Noah. It was rough on his parents; they didn't get to develop professionally or artistically in the ways they'd hoped to; they weren't able to travel; daily life was difficult, sometimes horrific; and, once Noah was older, they had to put him into abusive situations for their own safety. They, at least, had grown up and This book brings home the effect on the family of a child who is severely impaired. It's painful to see how Greenfield's family life was shaped by his severely autistic brother, Noah. It was rough on his parents; they didn't get to develop professionally or artistically in the ways they'd hoped to; they weren't able to travel; daily life was difficult, sometimes horrific; and, once Noah was older, they had to put him into abusive situations for their own safety. They, at least, had grown up and started adult life without this kind of problem. Karl's childhood, and thus his entire view of life, was permeated with his brother's presence. He loved Noah - who could be quite lovable - but longed for a brother he could be friends with and a home he could bring his friends into. The whole situation was tragic. And, as he is well aware, similar situations have happened and are still happening in many thousands of homes, most of which don't have the financial and cultural advantages that his family did. For getting that emotional toll across, and telling the story, I'd give this book four stars. The narrative seemed a bit repetitive and maybe too long, but otherwise well put together. My bigger problem was the literary device towards the end of the book that other reviewers have called a sucker punch to the reader. (view spoiler)[Without saying what he's doing, Greenfield goes into a whole fantasy sequence of Noah getting well enough to function fairly independently, with lots of details. The reader falls for it, though the details get less and less believable. It begins with Noah going to a school for the deaf where he learns sign language. Now, did that school exist? Did Noah go to it? Even after Karl gets back to reality, he doesn't explain. I was almost happy that the story didn't have the saccharine happy ending, which seemed out of sync with the author's attitude throughout the book. But I didn't like being lied to. (hide spoiler)]

  6. 4 out of 5

    Christel Lim

    I definitely like the way he writes. I think he can express the perspective from a child's point of view and also that of a brother easily. The transmission from that to the view of a grown up is also clearly noted. His writing style is what I enjoyed through out the whole book. It is clear, precise, sharp-accurate to the point in conveying his thoughts, emotions and feelings which gives anyone a clear picture of what the author went through. The emotions the author describes are raw, real and h I definitely like the way he writes. I think he can express the perspective from a child's point of view and also that of a brother easily. The transmission from that to the view of a grown up is also clearly noted. His writing style is what I enjoyed through out the whole book. It is clear, precise, sharp-accurate to the point in conveying his thoughts, emotions and feelings which gives anyone a clear picture of what the author went through. The emotions the author describes are raw, real and honest. He does not try to sugar-coat anything which is what I enjoyed. Even for his mistakes, he tells them as it is. He explains it so well. His thoughts which makes up for the bulk of the whole book is throughly conveyed to any reader who picks up this book. For his fantastic writing style and skill which I like, 4 stars. P.s. This isn't a book that one would pick up and finish in days. I took quite a number of months because I took the time to bask in such clarity of thought conveyed. I slowly absorbed it.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Kathryn

    This started kind of slowly, but it sucked me in. By the time I got to the last part of it, I couldn't put it down. The author says that this book started out to be a general book about autism, and it shows. Occasionally the author lapses into long passages about autism, that don't seem to quite fit with the story of two brothers. Honest, both in his telling of the story and in his dealing with the deeper questions of his life with his brother. So, untimately, the theme of this book is: "Am I my This started kind of slowly, but it sucked me in. By the time I got to the last part of it, I couldn't put it down. The author says that this book started out to be a general book about autism, and it shows. Occasionally the author lapses into long passages about autism, that don't seem to quite fit with the story of two brothers. Honest, both in his telling of the story and in his dealing with the deeper questions of his life with his brother. So, untimately, the theme of this book is: "Am I my brother's keeper?" For some reason, I found the cover photo arresting. I was half-way through the book before I realized that the cover photo continued onto the back side of the book, and that the part of the photo showing on the cover was of the author, rather than his autistic brother. And I was a ways into the book before I realized that the title referred to the author, as well as to his brother. Well done.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Julie

    I love this book. And I am picky about my books about autism. Most of them are not true enough for me. There are so many books about people who have an ASD on the higher end of things, who maybe are a little odd or a little quiet or take a little longer to reach some milestones, but then they make a break through and blah blah blah, happy ending. That doesn't work for me. I see this every day, and there is not always a happy ending. Of course, I want there to be. I work tirelessly every day to t I love this book. And I am picky about my books about autism. Most of them are not true enough for me. There are so many books about people who have an ASD on the higher end of things, who maybe are a little odd or a little quiet or take a little longer to reach some milestones, but then they make a break through and blah blah blah, happy ending. That doesn't work for me. I see this every day, and there is not always a happy ending. Of course, I want there to be. I work tirelessly every day to try and ensure a happy ending. I would give so much to promise a happy ending. But autism is a rough path with an uncertain future. And I wish more stories told that side of things. Don't want to give too much away but this book gave me one of the biggest emotional responses of my life. I would recommend it for everyone--it gives an honest perspective of something that is tougher and way less glamorous than most modern media would like us to believe.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Luz

    From the first time I saw it, the book itself was intriguing. A brother writing a memoir about his autistic brother, it's an eye-catcher. Greenfeld writes in different perspectives throughout the book, the perspective of a child, a teenager, and later on an adult. The book revolves around the aspect of family connection and how having an autistic in the family may affect them in difficult ways. At the beginning, the story was a bit boring, the only action was the parents trying to find a cure. B From the first time I saw it, the book itself was intriguing. A brother writing a memoir about his autistic brother, it's an eye-catcher. Greenfeld writes in different perspectives throughout the book, the perspective of a child, a teenager, and later on an adult. The book revolves around the aspect of family connection and how having an autistic in the family may affect them in difficult ways. At the beginning, the story was a bit boring, the only action was the parents trying to find a cure. But later into the story, it was difficult to put down, I needed to know how the story ended. Would Noah become better or will he become worse? Greenfeld will give you an immense, emotional slap in the face, but it's worth it because it shows a different view at life. I would definitely recommend this if you enjoy plot twists.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Keri

    I picked up this book after hearing Karl Greenfeld in an interview on NPR. I was fascinated by the idea because most memoirs of families with disabled members focus only on triumph over adversity and while hope of truimph is necessary, focusing only on the positive aspects negates some of the feelings that caregivers and families of the disabled have every day. Greenfeld is open and honest about his feelings growing up with Noah and the effects it had on his family. Without spoiling anything, I I picked up this book after hearing Karl Greenfeld in an interview on NPR. I was fascinated by the idea because most memoirs of families with disabled members focus only on triumph over adversity and while hope of truimph is necessary, focusing only on the positive aspects negates some of the feelings that caregivers and families of the disabled have every day. Greenfeld is open and honest about his feelings growing up with Noah and the effects it had on his family. Without spoiling anything, I was totally dissapointed with the turn the book took just after the halfway point. It seemed like a cop-out to me. I understood what Greenfeld was trying to do, but it didn't work and made me lose faith in him as a narrator.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Carla Jenkins

    I reviewed this book on Amazon when it first came out. At that time, I gave it four stars because the writing was very good and the story was one that needed to be told. However, the author delivers a sucker punch to readers that I think would be particularly painful to families of children newly diagnosed with autism. These families are quite dear to my heart. I thought at the time that I'd eventually come to see his justifications for that literary trick, but three years later, I still don't b I reviewed this book on Amazon when it first came out. At that time, I gave it four stars because the writing was very good and the story was one that needed to be told. However, the author delivers a sucker punch to readers that I think would be particularly painful to families of children newly diagnosed with autism. These families are quite dear to my heart. I thought at the time that I'd eventually come to see his justifications for that literary trick, but three years later, I still don't buy them, and now it actually seems nearly sociopathic to me. Also, I'm now angry that he so cheaply botched what would otherwise have been a masterful memoir. What a shame.

  12. 5 out of 5

    Jo Ann

    I don't know that I can say I liked this book because of the subject matter, but it certainly gave a true picture of the autistic child/adult. My son has raised his girlfriend's autistic son, who I have grown to love. He will be 17 next week. I worry about him and what will become of him. His older "normal" brother has gone through much of the same kinds of things described here. It is sad that the developmentally challenged are mistreated, at worst, or ignored at best. We all need to love one an I don't know that I can say I liked this book because of the subject matter, but it certainly gave a true picture of the autistic child/adult. My son has raised his girlfriend's autistic son, who I have grown to love. He will be 17 next week. I worry about him and what will become of him. His older "normal" brother has gone through much of the same kinds of things described here. It is sad that the developmentally challenged are mistreated, at worst, or ignored at best. We all need to love one another better in this life.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Daniel

    As a fellow sibling of a brother with profound autism and limited verbal communication capabilities, I found myself surprised at just how seen I felt in this book. His observation skills are strong and astute and this is unflinching. It’s a frequently brutal and unpleasant read about the difficulties of a lifelong relationship with a violent sibling who provides little positive reinforcement in return in a relationship (something that differs a bit from my own relationship) and the darkness and As a fellow sibling of a brother with profound autism and limited verbal communication capabilities, I found myself surprised at just how seen I felt in this book. His observation skills are strong and astute and this is unflinching. It’s a frequently brutal and unpleasant read about the difficulties of a lifelong relationship with a violent sibling who provides little positive reinforcement in return in a relationship (something that differs a bit from my own relationship) and the darkness and anger is jarring to encounter. But I’m very grateful for Greenfeld’s honesty, his portrayal of the social history of autism in the US alongside his brother’s treatment, and his earnest plea for more care and research to be devoted to adult autistics—it’s pretty devastating how little funding, enrichment, and care is provided to the developmentally delayed once they are above a minimum-schooling age and Greenfeld is rightfully upset at the way systems have continually failed his brother and his family throughout his life. There’s no way around it: it’s hard raising/caring for/being/being related to someone who requires such a constant amount of care. This book captures that painfully and openly.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Melissa

    I didn't get to finish this, but I would like to. This was well-written and a good sibling perspective - yet with details from the parent's journal to draw from. It is good to remember that practices we now find abhorrent were used not very long ago at all - and to think critically when considering current therapies for autistic children. I didn't get to finish this, but I would like to. This was well-written and a good sibling perspective - yet with details from the parent's journal to draw from. It is good to remember that practices we now find abhorrent were used not very long ago at all - and to think critically when considering current therapies for autistic children.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Elyce Darcy

    It is interesting to read about autism and how it was dealt with in the past, and how little doctors knew about it and how to deal with it. I struggled a little bit with how the author organized his writing, at times it took a little bit to understand the ordering of things or jumping to random topics.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Suzanne

    This was especially interesting for me because our family is sort of mirror image of the author's. It was raw and heartbreaking, and at times, horrifying. This was especially interesting for me because our family is sort of mirror image of the author's. It was raw and heartbreaking, and at times, horrifying.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Debby

    EXCELLENT

  18. 4 out of 5

    Hopenafuture

    What a sobering look at life with an autistic sibling. The perspective of a brother is unique, different than that of a parent. He is only now, as a father, learning what was different about the sibling relationship he had with his brother. Though book is primarily autobiographical, as in real life, a lot of the energy in the book is focused on Noah, rather than on Karl. I can see the parallel in reflection; as I read, I was not even aware that the main character in the book was, in fact, the au What a sobering look at life with an autistic sibling. The perspective of a brother is unique, different than that of a parent. He is only now, as a father, learning what was different about the sibling relationship he had with his brother. Though book is primarily autobiographical, as in real life, a lot of the energy in the book is focused on Noah, rather than on Karl. I can see the parallel in reflection; as I read, I was not even aware that the main character in the book was, in fact, the author, because of the way his life was so wrapped up in his family. It is a unique read. It is not for young children or immature youth - some of the themes are adult in nature and there is crude language. The story is not told in a particularly heart-wrenching way, it is matter of fact and forthright. It didn't elicit a strong emotional response as I read. But as the book came to a close, it brought a heaviness to my heart. I wanted to, rather like Karl describes doing, ignore the harsh realities, as though by ignoring them I could erase them. And yet, because I knew, ignorance is no longer fully available. There are no answers offered. No platitudes, no consolation. We are presented with the idea that perhaps those with these sorts of disabilities should be euthanized, as their presence can tear apart families and bog them down in the mundane. But the idea is not endorsed; only presented. And the point is made that each of us also have some of those quirky behaviors or anti-social tendencies; we are simply fortunate enough to have only a few, rather than many, of those oddities. What really makes us human, different from animals? Karl doesn't know, but his writing makes it clear that he sees the humanity in his brother. I suspect that even those of us who have the Christian "Sunday School answer" that 'bearing the image of God is what makes us human' will not find such an answer to be easily applied. Such answers come up short against the Noahs we encounter. Yet God knit them, too, in their mother's womb, and knows each of their days even before they are born. Perhaps therein lies the hope that is missing in this book - not the hope of a cure, or communication, but the hope that there is more than just this life, that someday the mystery of what Noah, and others like him, hold inside will be known. In the meantime, guilt and love inextricably woven together characterize Karl's relationship with his brother.

  19. 5 out of 5

    Sarah

    Having read a plethora of uplifting fairytale stories of hope, perseverance, and the ultimate family triumph in my exploration of autism-related memoirs and literature, at first glance this book seemed incredibly, undeniably depressing. A slap in the face, really, for a girl who spends her days engaging those whom society has deemed inherently aloof; teaching and befriending a unique and wonderful group of individuals; redirecting aggressive bites, scratches, globs of flying spit, and innumerable Having read a plethora of uplifting fairytale stories of hope, perseverance, and the ultimate family triumph in my exploration of autism-related memoirs and literature, at first glance this book seemed incredibly, undeniably depressing. A slap in the face, really, for a girl who spends her days engaging those whom society has deemed inherently aloof; teaching and befriending a unique and wonderful group of individuals; redirecting aggressive bites, scratches, globs of flying spit, and innumerable other unsavory behaviors to more effective ways of communicating. I do all of this because I honestly believe, for most families, there is hope for happiness. There are strengths. There is potential. It may take a shift in perspective, but there is always light at the end of the tunnel, if I may be so cliche. As I finish this astonishingly honest memoir, I actually find myself somewhat refreshed having undergone a perspective shift of my own. Greenfeld offers not your typical fairytale or story of traditional success, but a powerful and moving portrayal of a different kind of happy ending— one that, for me, highlights the enormous breadth of family dynamics, needs, and ultimate state of functioning. I would even call Karl and Noah’s story beautiful in that painful, dark, life-is-messy-and-often-unresolved, sort of way. Interesting that the “boy alone" is not actually a reference to the author’s younger brother (who has suffered from profound autism for all of his life), but rather to himself as an isolated, over-burdened brother without (from his own perspective) a brother. This book was a stark reminder that every story is uniquely its own, and we have far less control over our lives and our destinies than we would like to believe. We can try, we can hope, we can plan and problem solve and dole out all the love and lesson that we can possibly muster. But ultimately, in our imperfect and unpredictable human existence, we are subject to realities external to ourselves. Anticipated or otherwise, we must cope with and come to an understanding of the world that allows us to find peace in whatever form we can.

  20. 4 out of 5

    ABC

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. I happened upon "A Client Called Noah" and really liked it. It was written years ago by a man raising two sons: one developmentally normal and one with severe autism, and presumably severe mental retardation. So when I learned that his older son had written a book about growing up in that family, I knew I had to read it. The beginning of the book does not disappoint. It is honest and chockful of information. However....and this is why I put in a spoiler warning. When he is teenager, Noah advances I happened upon "A Client Called Noah" and really liked it. It was written years ago by a man raising two sons: one developmentally normal and one with severe autism, and presumably severe mental retardation. So when I learned that his older son had written a book about growing up in that family, I knew I had to read it. The beginning of the book does not disappoint. It is honest and chockful of information. However....and this is why I put in a spoiler warning. When he is teenager, Noah advances from a profoundly autistic person (non-verbal, spitting, scratching) to a person who can carry on conversations and lead a relatively normal life. He even has a girlfriend and a job as a copy editor. It all seemed highly suspicious to me. "Surely Karl Taro Greenfeld would not pull a James Frey. Noah is much to famous to lie about.". Anyway, I was confused. So....Greenfeld finished his book with a Noah who was high- functioning. I thought that this gave hope to parents of autistic children everywhere. But then the book continues and the truth comes out: it was all just a dream. Noah NEVER learned to talk. He is still spitting and scratching and low-functioning. What a cruel trick to play on parents of autistic kids. (And surely they are the first people who would want to read this book.). Let's save the plot twists for Agatha Christie novels. ETA I have now read the other reviews and the theories as to why Mr, Greenfeld inserted the fictional Noah into this book. My first feeling after I finished the entire book was that it was done to further his writing career. A book with a shocker at the end will get a lot more attention than just a regular book. Anyway that is how I felt, though I can certainly respect other points of view.

  21. 4 out of 5

    Jaclyn

    I won't give away any spoilers, but let me just say this: DO NOT, under any circumstances, read this in public. Like, say, on an airplane. There's a very interesting and well-done twist that very much caught me off-guard, and when I realized what it was, I put the book back into my bag and informed the beau, "DO NOT let me finish this in public. If you see me pulling it out again, punch me in the face." So I finished it in a hotel room in Mexico. Most depressing book ever for a vacation, but sti I won't give away any spoilers, but let me just say this: DO NOT, under any circumstances, read this in public. Like, say, on an airplane. There's a very interesting and well-done twist that very much caught me off-guard, and when I realized what it was, I put the book back into my bag and informed the beau, "DO NOT let me finish this in public. If you see me pulling it out again, punch me in the face." So I finished it in a hotel room in Mexico. Most depressing book ever for a vacation, but still pretty amazing. Anyone who has a family member or friend with autism needs to read this. It's nothing surprising to the immediate family -- parents or siblings -- but I guarantee extended fam and friends can learn A LOT from it. Greenfeld does an amazing job at explaining what it's like having a younger sibling with autism. His experience is exceedingly different from mine -- his brother, Noah, isn't as high functioning as my brother, and he was a screw up in high school where as I was the straight A kid -- but there are still so many similarities. I've never really felt like a Girl Alone, but I can completely relate to Greenfeld's Boy Alone. This is such a brave book to write -- and frankly, it's a brave book to read, too.

  22. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

    I randomly found this book on the library shelf and decided to read it because my son has an Asperger's diagnosis. Yes, Noah, the author's brother, has low-functioning autism, so I knew the book content would be different from my experience. However, the book taught me a lot about autism treatments in the 60s and 70s. People like Noah underwent extremely harsh treatment and abuse in the name of curing autism. Because of them, my son has access to quality care that really works. The book was also I randomly found this book on the library shelf and decided to read it because my son has an Asperger's diagnosis. Yes, Noah, the author's brother, has low-functioning autism, so I knew the book content would be different from my experience. However, the book taught me a lot about autism treatments in the 60s and 70s. People like Noah underwent extremely harsh treatment and abuse in the name of curing autism. Because of them, my son has access to quality care that really works. The book was also insightful into the way families operate when an autism diagnosis is involved. Unfortunately, it was a slow read. I also felt betrayed toward the end when the author implemented creative writing to embellish the story. I would recommend this book, though, to anyone who's interested in autism, mental health, Japanese culture and the family dynamic in homes where someone has an autistic diagnosis.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Paula Gallagher

    This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here. A fascinating look at the effects of severe autism on family infrastructure, and on a neurotypical sibling. Greenfeld delves into his past, examining his relationships with his father, a Jewish author and screnwriter; and his mother, a Japanese artist and novelist. Younger brother Noah is the sun around which the family solar system revolves--he has severe autism. Noah does not speak. He requires little sleep and constant attention to keep him from hurting himself, and/or others (hairpulling and A fascinating look at the effects of severe autism on family infrastructure, and on a neurotypical sibling. Greenfeld delves into his past, examining his relationships with his father, a Jewish author and screnwriter; and his mother, a Japanese artist and novelist. Younger brother Noah is the sun around which the family solar system revolves--he has severe autism. Noah does not speak. He requires little sleep and constant attention to keep him from hurting himself, and/or others (hairpulling and biting being his chief ways of connecting). Greenfeld, a marginal student, unfairly draws his parents' ire for "normal transgressions," causing him to further push the envelope by stealing and pot-smoking. The book would merit 5 stars if not for an unannounced "what if" sequence near the end, imagining life with a Noah who has had a breakthrough, becoming high functioning.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Mary

    Karl Greenfeld has written a hard-to-put-down memoir of growing up with a (famous) autistic brother. Readers who know the book A Child Called Noah from the 1970s will know one side of Greenfeld's story already: his father's memoir of raising Noah, Karl's brother. Now Karl tells the family story from his point of view. One thing that Karl emphasizes is that to a young child, "what is, is." Karl did not have any other brother to compare Noah with. Of course, with age comes awareness. Karl Greenfel Karl Greenfeld has written a hard-to-put-down memoir of growing up with a (famous) autistic brother. Readers who know the book A Child Called Noah from the 1970s will know one side of Greenfeld's story already: his father's memoir of raising Noah, Karl's brother. Now Karl tells the family story from his point of view. One thing that Karl emphasizes is that to a young child, "what is, is." Karl did not have any other brother to compare Noah with. Of course, with age comes awareness. Karl Greenfeld's own path as the "normal" brother was far from trouble-free, although what having an autistic brother had to do with his subsequent problems is not clear. This memoir has an ending which is worth the price of the book.

  25. 4 out of 5

    Barb

    Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir, is, well, a memoir about growing up with a severely autistic brother, who happens to be the most famous autistic kid in America, at least in the 1970s. The author’s dad, Josh Greenfeld, wrote three books about living with and exploring treatment options for an autistic child. There were appearances on the Today show and 60 Minutes, and articles in Time. Karl Greenfeld, the author, writes about growing up against the backdrop of his parents’ focus on his younger bro Boy Alone: A Brother’s Memoir, is, well, a memoir about growing up with a severely autistic brother, who happens to be the most famous autistic kid in America, at least in the 1970s. The author’s dad, Josh Greenfeld, wrote three books about living with and exploring treatment options for an autistic child. There were appearances on the Today show and 60 Minutes, and articles in Time. Karl Greenfeld, the author, writes about growing up against the backdrop of his parents’ focus on his younger brother. It was OK, but, as Robot Chicken says about M. Night Shyamalan movies, “with a twist!” And indeed, there’s a twist, but you’ll have to read it for yourself to find out what it is.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Shelley

    I had a hard time with this one, but am glad I read it. A group of nurses were reading it at a conference I attended, and I thought it sounded good. Overall, the subject matter of growing up with an autistic brother in the 60's and 70's was clearly addressed and I did empathize with his parents and the family as a whole. The review of child development and psychology was also interesting, but read very much like a text book. It easily could have been 100 pages shorter and still got the story and p I had a hard time with this one, but am glad I read it. A group of nurses were reading it at a conference I attended, and I thought it sounded good. Overall, the subject matter of growing up with an autistic brother in the 60's and 70's was clearly addressed and I did empathize with his parents and the family as a whole. The review of child development and psychology was also interesting, but read very much like a text book. It easily could have been 100 pages shorter and still got the story and points across. I did not like the section that went from fact to fiction without telling the reader until afterwards. And, too many long trailing on portions that didn't fit well into the story. Those parts read more like a teenagers journal than a memoir.

  27. 4 out of 5

    Teri Erickson

    I picked this book up because I am a mother of two and my youngest does have Autism. Both are boys just like in this book and I thought it would give me some insight on how my oldest may feel about this or at least how the author dealt with things. Also how the parents handled them aging and their youngest still needing care. That said I didn't finish this book I gave it 50 pages and couldn't read one more. It was terribly written the author was ALL over the place all the time I found it hard to I picked this book up because I am a mother of two and my youngest does have Autism. Both are boys just like in this book and I thought it would give me some insight on how my oldest may feel about this or at least how the author dealt with things. Also how the parents handled them aging and their youngest still needing care. That said I didn't finish this book I gave it 50 pages and couldn't read one more. It was terribly written the author was ALL over the place all the time I found it hard to keep up and I got nothing from it at all. Often I found it confusing even after reading the same paragraph back again and it still made no sense. I didn't think I should torture myself with 300 more pages and put it down. I will find another book to hopefully give me what I wanted from this one.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Morninglight Mama

    I cannot begin to estimate how many times I starred passages, highlighted particular segments and stained the pages of this book with my tears. Gut-wrenchingly honest and without mincing words, Greenfeld describes in great detail his perspective as a sibling of a severely autistic child. Because of my own experiences growing up with a sister with significant cognitive delays and psychological impairments, this book hit home hard. I respect Greenfeld for his ability to say exactly how he felt, an I cannot begin to estimate how many times I starred passages, highlighted particular segments and stained the pages of this book with my tears. Gut-wrenchingly honest and without mincing words, Greenfeld describes in great detail his perspective as a sibling of a severely autistic child. Because of my own experiences growing up with a sister with significant cognitive delays and psychological impairments, this book hit home hard. I respect Greenfeld for his ability to say exactly how he felt, and feels, even when the words are not pleasant, and especially when doing so opens him up to the criticism of others. Far from deserving criticism, Greenfeld is simply telling his story, and it is a compelling, painful and difficult story to be told.

  29. 5 out of 5

    Kathleen

    Difficult childhoods aren't all alike. Sometimes it is an alcoholic, poverty stricken or mentally ill parent. In this case, severely autistic Noah, takes up all of the anxious parents' time and attention, putting the older brother Karl on a seesaw of emotion, and at times guilt for being "normal". Karl's father is Jewish, his mother Japanese. Every decision is made for Noah's well-being, including a move to Southern California. Karl's father writes about Noah in life Magazine, which was interest Difficult childhoods aren't all alike. Sometimes it is an alcoholic, poverty stricken or mentally ill parent. In this case, severely autistic Noah, takes up all of the anxious parents' time and attention, putting the older brother Karl on a seesaw of emotion, and at times guilt for being "normal". Karl's father is Jewish, his mother Japanese. Every decision is made for Noah's well-being, including a move to Southern California. Karl's father writes about Noah in life Magazine, which was interesting to read. As an adolescent, Karl turns to unhealthy ways to relieve all of the stress in his life. An excellent memoir for those interested in how life is with an autistic person

  30. 4 out of 5

    Writerbj

    A superb, painfully honest account of growing up the sibling of a severely autistic child. Karl Taro Greenfeld's life and sense of identity were going to be complicated anyway, as he was the son of a Japanese artist mother and Jewish American writer father. But those complications were infinitely compounded by growing up in the shadow of his younger brother Noah, probably the best-known autistic child in America at that time (due to three books published by father Josh Greenfeld). Karl's searing A superb, painfully honest account of growing up the sibling of a severely autistic child. Karl Taro Greenfeld's life and sense of identity were going to be complicated anyway, as he was the son of a Japanese artist mother and Jewish American writer father. But those complications were infinitely compounded by growing up in the shadow of his younger brother Noah, probably the best-known autistic child in America at that time (due to three books published by father Josh Greenfeld). Karl's searingly frank account of a family both devoted to and fragmented by its most fragile member is riveting reading.

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