From Publishers Weekly
In this affecting, thoughtful memoir, Prince-Hughes explores how working with gorillas helped her escape the feelings of isolation she encountered as a sufferer of Asperger's syndrome, a form of autism characterized by difficulties processing stimuli, sensory sensitivity and social awkwardness. Her description of the course of her condition is both delightfully quixotic and terribly sad. Prince-Hughes's addictions to the smells of purple irises and tin Band-Aid boxes seem harmless enough, but her inability to emotionally connect to other people has terrible consequences. In high school, she is beaten and harshly abused. Trying to cope, she develops a drinking problem, spends months homeless and takes a job as a strip club dancer to make ends meet. A lifeline comes after a trip to the zoo, where the author discovers gorillas and forms a bond with them that changes her life. These creatures see the world the same way Prince-Hughes does: "They didn't look at one another, and they did look at me, they looked at everything." She gets a low-level zoo job and decides to make a career out of studying gorillas. By quietly, calmly watching the gorillas interact, Prince-Hughes learns about emotions like love, anger, concern and humor-feelings she could never understand in the purely human world. The author's favorite gorilla, a 500-pounder named Congo, becomes more of a friend than a subject, at one point literally giving her a shoulder to cry on. Although Prince-Hughes goes on to earn a Ph.D. in anthropology, she still struggles with verbal and physical interactions. In print, however, she finds touching eloquence and clarity.
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This memoir tells how Prince-Hughes learned to manage her form of autism, Asperger's syndrome, by observing and interacting with gorillas. This "high-functioning" form of autism regularly goes unrecognized because sufferers are often gifted intellectually and learn numerous coping mechanisms. The author's accounts of her early childhood are intensely moving as she describes how she viewed her world and how she tried to deal with it. What makes this book unique is the author's discovery of the gorillas at Seattle's Woodland Park Zoo, and how she learned about personal relationships, the need for companionship, and the need for a group to belong to by watching them. Though she dropped out of school at 16, wanting to learn more about the gorillas helped her to find a focus and led to an eventual Ph.D. in anthropology. The reader will feel what the author is feeling, and her comparisons of herself with the gorillas she grew to love are fascinating. An excellent addition to any library's collection about autism, this will also resonate with all who understand the human-animal connection. Nancy BentCopyright © American Library Association. All rights reserved