As the son of a special education teacher, I'm not unfamiliar with the rough road of political correctness anyone trying to write or talk about certain disabilities has tread over the last forty years. In fact, I'm pretty sure that last sentence was somehow politically incorrect. Still, I did a double take when I saw the title for this book on the shelf at the thrift store. Harriet Langsam Sobol doesn't pull any punches. You'll find none of that milquetoast talk about how Steven is "special" here. This might be the most depressing Nixon-Era black-and-white photo book I've found yet. It's somehow sadder than the one where the boy wants to keep his grandpa's corpse in his closet or the one where the dad makes his son shake the prosthetic limb of the guy down at the hardware store. I'm not sure if it's the gloomy 70s photography or the text itself. This stuff makes Sylvia Plath look like Shel Silverstein. If your goal was impressing upon readers the soul-crushing despair of having a developmentally-disabled sibling, Ms. Sobol, consider your book a success.
My name is Beth, and I'm eleven. I have a retarded brother, Steven. I like to play with my dog, Smokey.
He's mentally retarded. He's older than I am, but he acts like he's younger. He's even smaller than I am. His body doesn't seem to grow the way mind does. . . My mother explained "retarded" to me when I was very little. "Retarded" means you can't learn or understand things like everyone else. She said Steven's brain was damaged while he was being born, and that's why he can't do the things I can do. To see the rest of the book, click here.
I guess I love Steven because he's my brother, but many times I think he's hard to love. He doesn't look the same as other children, and he makes funny noises and sort of talks funny. He doesn't always use the right words for things, and because he mumbles it's hard to understand him. . . He's kind of clumsy, and once in a while he knocks things over. When he breaks things or makes messes and I have to help my mother clean up, I get angry at him. Then I really feel bad because it's not his fault his brain was hurt.
When I'm with my friends, I usually don't think much about Steven. . . But when my mother and I go out shopping, Steven has to come with us. He walks with his feet pointed out, and he sometimes claps his hands for no reason at all. People stare at him, and lots of times kids giggle when they see him, and that makes me feel very embarrassed.
Steven and I were proud the day he finally learned to spell his name out loud. We had been working on it for such a long time. Lots of times I feel sorry for Steven. My mother and father say they feel sorry that he's retarded too. They say we will always be sad about it, but there really is nothing anyone can do to change it.
At night when I go to bed, I think about what will happen to Steven when he grows up. I know he will always be retarded. He will grow taller, but he will never act like other grownups. He won't ever be able to live alone and take care of himself like I will. My parents have told me that Steven's school will teach him an easy job that he can do when he grows up. He will probably live in a house with other retarded people, with a housekeeper who will cook and clean for them.
I hope he will be happy.