Review – Daniel Isn’t Talking

Daniel Isn’t Talking – Marti Leimbach

Daniel Isn't TalkingThis is a fictional story based (not sure how much) on the real life of the author and her son. The story covers the first 3-4 years in the life of a boy called Daniel as told by his mother. This book is focused primarily around the intervention provided by play therapist Andy O’Connor and the impact this has on Daniel.

I find books like this difficult to formulate a review on because I don’t know what the author was thinking when they fictionalised real life events, such as are the opinions of the main character, Mel, in this book also the opinions of Leimbach? The two main themes of this book are Daniel’s autism and the relationship issues that forms between Mel and Stephen (Daniel’s dad), and Mel and Andy (play therapist).

If either Mel or Stephen were meant to be in anyway sympathetic characters then Leimbach fell very short of the mark:

Whispering so that Emily and Daniel don’t hear, I say, ‘He’s autistic. That’s what they’ve said. He will not grow up like a normal child. It is the worst thing that can possibly happen!’ (Mel)

And a quote from the character of Stephen:

‘You can’t understand why I might not want to spend my time around people with damaged children. Well, I don’t! It’s not how I want to live my life, do you understand? It’s depressing and hopeless and unattractive’

So some cheery reading there. Both of the characters are just plain unlikeable and you find yourself thinking that it’s probably for the best in this fictional world that they’re together because they’re well suited for each other in their general unpleasantness.

Since this book is more focussed on the therapy that Daniel receives at the age of around 3 upwards, the diagnosis of autism is introduced fairly early in the story. Which gives the story (and main character) more time to go on about how terrible autism is, how dismal special schools are, and to find a cure for Daniel. At least the character of Andy O’Connor is likeable, even if he is a bit over the top. From around page 65 onwards the whole book is just a rotation of autism is terrible-relationship woes-special schools are the worst-fall in love with the therapist-autism is terrible-my husband is cheating. The scenes with Andy are alright and some of them are interesting, which makes sense since besides Daniel he’s the most likeable character in the book.

A positive view of autism and special needs is not painted in this book (why would it be since it’s a story about recovery through therapy), and again I find myself wondering if some of the views in this book are the actually the author’s own feelings because they are expressed so frequently:

I shake my head dumbly. I wonder, has Stephen ever been to a special school? Has he seen how impossible it is to learn language in a group setting surrounded by others who either cannot speak at all or repeat the same dismal, senseless phrase over and over?

and this is the second book I’ve read in a short space of time where there is a magical foretelling of a child’s entire life based on a brief encounter (the first was not fictional, and was in Chaos to Calm):

She picks up her child, a boy whose tragic collision of DNA means he will most certainly never speak or play or kiss or sing, who it would appear must spend his time mostly in hospital, and who, given his condition as I see it, cannot grow normally in any way whatsoever.

Anyway, I’m going to fast forward and spoil the ending that we all could have guessed was coming. Mel ends up with the play therapist and Daniel makes so much progress that it’s hard to believe he was ever autistic and so on… There are already enough biographical books on the market bemoaning the apparent terribleness that is autism and championing these ‘amazing’ therapies and cures, was it really necessary to write a fictional one as well?

There’s also a lot going on in the book besides the two man storylines which over complicates things and a lot of people who really have no purpose in the story, like the Indian maid who disappears, marries an army guy, gets her heart broken and comes back to live with Mel, or Mel’s brother and his parrot loving girlfriend, or some of the members of Stephen’s family. I think they’re all there to try and create this atmosphere of chaos surrounding the main characters (or maybe they are references to real life people) but it just made the book more confusing. I think that there are probably a good 3 or 4 characters who could have been cut without it having any negative impact on the book.

Is it worth reading? No, not really. It’s more of the same stuff that you get from real parent biographies that are focused on all the negatives and finding a cure, just fictionalised.

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