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The Anti-Romantic Child: A Story of Unexpected Joy Hardcover – Deckle Edge, April 19, 2011

4.6 out of 5 stars 115 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Starred Review. The daughter of literary agent Lynn Nesbit and the late theater drama critic Richard Gilman crafts a beautifully sinuous and intensely literary celebration of the exceptional, unconventional child. Her son, Benjamin, was born when she and her academic husband, Richard, were in graduate school at Yale, where she was still working on her dissertation on the Romantic English poet William Wordsworth. As "Benj" grew older and failed to hit the usual milestones of children his age, exhibiting brilliant but "odd" behavior such as an obsession with numbers, aversion to physical affection, fastidiousness, inability to feed himself, and echolalia, Gilman realized these were "uncontrollable manifestations of a disorder," namely hyperlexia. Falsely reassured by their well-intentioned pediatrician, the couple finally sought professional therapists, and after they relocated to Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where both got teaching jobs at Vassar, Benj made marvelous progress in school. Throughout her narrative, Gilman extracts from many of Wordsworth's poems, which comment on innocence and loss and gave Gilman tremendous succor during Benjamin's early development, making for both charming and studious reading. Her thoughtful memoir involves the breakup of her marriage, rejection of an academic career, and move to New York City to work in her mother's literary agency as much as it delves lyrically into the rare, complex mind of the unusual child. (May)
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“Smart, soulful, and involving.” (Nick Hornby, The Believer)

“Rapturously beautiful and deeply moving, profound and marvelous.” (Andrew Solomon, author of Far from the Tree)

The Anti-Romantic Child is beautiful, poetic, and heartfelt. It’s more than a mother–child story; it’s a journey of self-discovery. It’s a book every parent should read.” (Kathryn Erskine, bestselling author of Mockingbird and winner of the 2010 National Book Award)

“Priscilla Gilman’s lyrical narrative is profoundly moving and ultimately joyous. It eloquently touches the universal.” (Harold Bloom)

“What a glorious book Priscilla Gilman has written. Lively, eloquent, straightforward, and insightful, The Anti-Romantic Child deftly delineates and negotiates the complex cross-currents of a life of the mind and a life of the heart.” (Sandra Boynton, children's book author and illustrator)

“Every parent should read this luminous book to absorb or absorb again the truth that every child is a surprise—a revelation—to be uniquely learned and understood as well as loved.” (Mary Catherine Bateson, author of Composing A Further Life: The Age of Active Wisdom)

“Unforgettable. . . . I couldn’t put this book down.” (Gretchen Rubin, bestselling author of The Happiness Project)

“This is a fascinating, tender, illuminating book about an extraordinary boy and his equally extraordinary mother. A wonderful read.” (Martha Beck, author of Expecting Adam and columnist for O magazine)

“A book for all parents. . . . [Gilman’s] poignant story of reconciling fantasy with reality is a universal story of parental growth. A story to inspire us all.” (Ellen Galinsky, the Huffington Post)

“A fantastic memoir. . . . I loved this book.” (KJ Dell'Antonia, lead blogger for the New York Times Motherlode)

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 304 pages
  • Publisher: Harper; First Edition edition (April 19, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0061690279
  • ISBN-13: 978-0061690273
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 1 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (115 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,300,715 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Eileen Cunningham VINE VOICE on March 12, 2011
Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
Raised by an imaginative father and launched on motherhood with the poetry of Wordsworth in her heart, Priscilla Gilman longed to create for her own children the romantic vision of childhood she felt herself to have inhabited. But, as the title of her book indicates, her dream was not to be--at least, not in the terms she had perceived it. In the last decades of the twentieth century, research on learning disorders expanded almost exponentially, and with it came teaching methods and even special schools that could address these education needs. Yet, even so, for quite some time, the Gilmans could not find a school that would accept their son, Benjamin.

I read this book in the hope of understanding brilliant students with social phobias, and though the *The Anti-Romantic Child* turned out to be about a child with a rather different set of challenges, I came away from it awed by the power of unconditional and unrelenting love. A former English professor from Vassar, Gilman writes beautifully, allowing the reader to enter her own maelstrom of emotion at each stage of Benj's development--from the heights of reveling in the joy of an exceptionally precocious child to the depths of hearing that he is, as far as intelligence goes, not much more than a parrot, and then on to the lonely machete work in the jungle of the unknown in an effort to prove the pundits wrong. Though the emotions go up and down, however, the determined struggle to make her son capable of receiving and expressing love goes on apace.

As Gilman moves chronologically through Benj's life, she cites lines of verse from Wordsworth, whom she eventually realizes knew both the light and the dark of childhood. Without the Wordsworthean cushion, it is hard to see how Ms.
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Format: Hardcover Vine Customer Review of Free Product ( What's this? )
I can see from reading the other Amazon reviews that I will be in the minority in my criticisms of this book. However, Gilman--as the daughter of a critic and literary agent-- deserves a fair and honest treatment of her work. In voicing my criticisms, I must stress that in the end her book did capture me...and changed the way I think about the expectations we have for our children (special needs or not).

When I began this book, I had no expectations for it, but the intro (section labeled Preface, I believe) was a bumpy ride for me. Early on we learn that Gilman was a professor of English, but I was unimpressed by her disjointed beginning. She aimed to give some background for the story that would unfold, but this intro had an unpolished, drafty quality that almost had me abandoning the book. I pushed on, however, and by the end, I felt that she had told an honest and touching story. She is somewhat unnecessarily apologetic about her decisions regarding her marriage and career choices, but she seems to be explaining it as much to herself as to her reader. This story seems to have finished very recently (the book covers about 10 years, finishing just before publiction), and that rawness shows up in ways that both distract and enthrall the reader.

The thing that sets her book apart form other memoirs is her insertion of Wordsworth poems to illustrate, or even to dialogue with, her story. As she was a literature professor, her use of Wordsworth to understand her own experience is well explained and interesting. I am also intrigued by texts that mix in excerpts or vary the style, but unfortunately I'm not sure it works in her text.
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Format: Hardcover
As a mother of a special needs child, I checked this book out at the library. My own son was diagnosed with Asperger's, not Hyperlexia, but there are so many quirks that both share, that when I read the summary of this book, I felt inclined to read it.

First off, let me say that there is no question that this mother loves her child deeply. However, I found the book having less to do with her son and her son's syndrome than having to do with herself and her own ideals on what life should be like. Or rather, what she wants life to be like. The book itself is beautifully written, from a literary standpoint, which is understandable given that the author was an English professor and scholar of Wordsworth. It's just that I found it very difficult to identify with this woman as a parent. Indeed, I personally found her narcissistic and too wrapped up in her own wants and viewpoints.

I would have rather heard more about her son and her son's personality rather than about her life, her career, her take on life. Whenever she did mention Benj and his activities, it came across more like she was lamenting his abnormalities more than she was truly trying to understand them. I think that's what bothered me the most about this book. Even after therapists and psychologists made it clear that her child was different, even though she agreed with them, she still maintained a sense of denial, even resisted getting him formally evaluated and forced this poor child to try and fit in at mainstream schools. As a parent of a child similar to hers, I found this appalling and frustrating.

Ultimately, this book is not about the child, but about the mother. A mother that wants everyone and everything to fit into her own idealistic version of the world. It's about her disappointment, her fantasy of a normal family being shattered, and her own frustrations about her career and family.
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