Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir

( 10 )

Overview

Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He was unable to communicate verbally or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor was prone to violent outbursts. No doctor, social worker, or specialist could pinpoint what was wrong with Noah beyond a general diagnosis: autism. The boys' parents dedicated their lives to caring for their younger son—a challenging, often painful experience that their father detailed in a...

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Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir

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Overview

Karl Taro Greenfeld knew from an early age that his little brother, Noah, was not like other children. He was unable to communicate verbally or tie his shoes, and despite his angelic demeanor was prone to violent outbursts. No doctor, social worker, or specialist could pinpoint what was wrong with Noah beyond a general diagnosis: autism. The boys' parents dedicated their lives to caring for their younger son—a challenging, often painful experience that their father detailed in a bestselling trilogy of books.

Boy Alone is Karl Taro Greenfeld's unforgettable memoir of growing up in Noah's shadow, revealing the complex mix of rage, confusion, and love that defined the author's childhood—a beautiful, haunting, and wholly original exploration of what it means to be a family, a brother, a person.

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  • Karl Taro Greenfeld
    Karl Taro Greenfeld  

Editorial Reviews

Suki Casanave
“Gripping.”
Suki Casanave
These days, when autism success stories seem to emerge with increasing frequency, Karl Greenfeld's memoir—which combines personal experience with an exploration of autism research—offers a frank, sometimes brutal account of life with a severely disabled child who will never be considered one of those success stories. Living with Noah was a relentless task, an unremitting round of violent behaviors: scratching, biting, spitting, hair pulling…In the end, the reader is left simply to marvel at this family's endurance, at the sheer feat of survival
—The Washington Post
Publishers Weekly

Sibling rivalry-and love-of a ravaging kind is the subject of this unsparing memoir of the author's life with his severely autistic brother. Journalist Greenfeld (Standard Deviations) describes his brother, Noah, as a "spitting, jibbering, finger-twiddling, head-bobbing idiot"; unable to speak or clean himself and given to violent tantrums, Noah and his utter indifference to others makes him permanently "alone." But Karl feels almost as alienated; with his parents preoccupied with Noah's needs (and Noah's celebrity after his father, Joshua, wrote a bestselling account of his illness in A Child Called Noah), he turns to drugs and petty crime in the teenage wasteland of suburban Los Angeles. Greenfeld doesn't flinch in his depiction of Noah's raging dysfunctions or his critique of a callous mental health-care system and arrogant autism-research establishment. (He's especially hard on the psychoanalytic theories of the "Viennese charlatan" Bruno Bettelheim.) But the author's self-portrait is equally lacerating; he often wallows in self-pity-"I return home stoned, drunk, puking on myself as I sit defecating into the toilet, crying to my parents... that I am a failure"-and owns up to the coldness that Noah's condition can provoke in him. The result is a bleak but affecting chronicle of a family simultaneously shattered and bound tight by autism. (May)

Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Kirkus Reviews
A wrenching account of growing up with a profoundly autistic younger brother. Journalist Greenfeld (China Syndrome: The True Story of the 21st-Century's First Great Epidemic, 2006, etc.) is the brother of Noah, for a time the best-known autistic child in the country. In a trilogy of books about Noah by their father Josh-beginning in 1972 with A Child Called Noah-the author is "a bit player who provides interesting contrast to his autistic brother but little more than that." Here, Greenfeld begins with his early memories as a toddler in the mid '60s. In 1971 the family moved from New York to California in a desperate search for help for Noah. The author then jumps ahead to his adolescent years in Pacific Palisades, where he, with his Japanese mother, Jewish father and a bizarrely behaving, disabled kid brother, was a social misfit. While the author got involved in petty crime, drugs and imaginary war games, family life revolved around Noah, whom he both resented and loved. Eventually Greenfeld and his parents moved to a new house, leaving Noah in their old one with a caretaker. With the new arrangement, Noah began to recede from his life, and Greenfeld began his own rocky climb to maturity. Memoir turns smoothly to fictional imagining in the later sections as the author thinks about Noah transforming into a brother who can talk to him and share experiences. But in the final pages he abruptly shifts back to harsh reality. Woven into this moving personal story is an account of the changing scientific approaches to autism, from Bruno Bettelheim's claim that cold mothers were the cause and the key to treatment, to the adherents of B.F. Skinner, who saw operant conditioning as the answer. Withinadequate resources and conflicting research, parents of autistic children grasp at misleading claims. As Greenfeld makes clear, while early intervention may help the very young, for autistic adults, like his brother, the situation is exceedingly bleak. Greenfeld spares neither himself nor his brother in this painfully honest, revealing memoir.
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780061136672
  • Publisher: HarperCollins Publishers
  • Publication date: 4/27/2010
  • Pages: 355
  • Sales rank: 995,196
  • Product dimensions: 5.30 (w) x 7.90 (h) x 1.00 (d)

Meet the Author

Karl Taro Greenfeld

Karl Taro Greenfeld is the author of six previous books, including the acclaimed memoir Boy Alone and the novel Triburbia. His fiction has appeared in Harper's Magazine, the Paris Review, Best American Short Stories, and the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories. He has been a longtime writer for Time and Sports Illustrated, among many other publications, and his nonfiction has been collected in Best American Sports Writing, Best American Non-Required Reading, Best American Travel Writing, and Best Creative Nonfiction.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 3.5
( 10 )
Rating Distribution

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Sort by: Showing all of 10 Customer Reviews
  • Posted October 2, 2010

    Not all that great.

    Having grown up in a relatively normal family, I cannot even start to understand how difficult it was to grow up with a brother like Noah. However, I sympathized with Karl because I felt his pain and his loneliness through his book. I understood how much he disliked his brother. Karl felt that there was no hope for his brother in the future, so he thought of Noah as a lost cause. While I was reading, I felt the same about Noah too, but then Karl went on to explain how Noah got better! Karl wrote that when he got back from college, he came home to a brother that could speak! He went on to explain how Noah helped him get through his drug addictions, how Noah got married with his first "girlfriend" and how he even asked Karl for his blessing. Once Karl explains how Noah has made magnificent progress, more than anyone could have hoped. Karl cruelly tells the readers that all he had written about Noah and his improvements was just a dream. In reality, Noah had been institutionalized with other autistic adults and had been beaten and hurt. After believing that Noah had gotten better and had improved, this news was devastating and ruined the book for me. It made me sad and made me want to stop reading the book all together. I hated the fact that Karl Greenfeld had led me on to believe that Noah had gotten better.

    3 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted March 26, 2010

    Brave and honest but

    As the grandparent of a child with Asperger's and friend to a parent whose child is severely autistic, I approached this book cautiously. This subject, when too closely regarded, can hurt. I was rewarded with a detailed history of treatments and therapies, enlightening descriptions of current research, and, most of all, a brave and honest account of a sibling/family struggle to cope with this disease. But just when I was ready to proclaim to my own circle, You have to read this! - I was totally derailed by the incredible sidestep that occurs near the end of the story. And, when I'd righted myself and reread where I'd been led astray, I was angry. My own hopes felt exploited and betrayed. Why did Greenfeld have to do it this way? Is it an eminently discussable book? Yes. But beware. Reality bites.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted January 11, 2014

    Jo-Beth

    Awww, bye

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 16, 2011

    Beautifully written

    I enjoyed this book and admired the honesty which Greenfeld protrays- even toppin his author father-hoping for an update on Noah

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  • Posted October 15, 2011

    A Let Down

    I have never really come across a person who is autistic, so reading the book, Boy Alone written by Karl Taro Greenfeld, is a huge eye opener for me. I did not know what it meant to be autistic or what it feels like to have someone in your family be autistic. It's a good book for those who want to know more about autism, but it is not a good book for anyone to read under the age of 13. There is some strong language throughout the book which isn't appropriate for children. The book starts off extremely slowly and it becomes harder to read. When Karl's parents first find out that their son is autistic they go crazy looking in books for some answers, and Karl says, "For my parents, this period is an odyssey through the universe of literature and theories of developmentally disabled children..." (40). His sentences are pack with words and I tend to get lost in his wordiness. Although it does start off slow, the book picks up and becomes more interesting toward the very end of the book. Karl describes that his brother becomes a higher functioning autistic, "He is forming small words, making little sentences..." (272). In the beginning of the book he says that his brother is a very low functioning autistic, so hearing that his brother could talk makes you feel happy. Then, out of nowhere, you see all of these reports and the author hits you with the fact that none of it happened. It was somber ending to the book, and it leaves you feeling like nothing was accomplished by reading that middle part. I would recommend this book to those people who have a lot of time on their hands. It took me quite a while to make it through the whole book. At first, Boy Alone is a dull and slow moving book, it picks up in the middle, and then you get let down all over again.

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  • Posted October 14, 2011

    A Restricted Lifestyle (Spoiler Alert!)

    In this memoir, Boy Alone: A Brothers Memoir by Karl Taro Greenfeld, I clearly understand the hardships that Karl and his family faced due to my personal experiences with autistic relatives.
    Although this book contains great details, it really lacks in the ending when Karl reveals that Noah had, indeed, never gotten better. It is a huge disappointment and ruins the interest of the story, even though it is the truth. I, however, like the way Greenfeld explains his own personal experiences and how they are deeply affected by Noah's autism. Having an autistic brother not only affects his social life and family, but also takes a toll on him physically. He states, "Noah is a dream killer, reducing our family's idea of a better life to one banal state: normality" (79). I can't even imagine how difficult it would be to have a low-functioning autistic sibling. It is nearly impossible to think about sending your loved ones away to a mental home. Karl's father, John, wrote in his journal, "Fight as hard as you can, then give up" (177). The fact that parents with autistic children try so hard so their kids can live normal lives is saddening. Most of the time, they end up giving their children away and the time spent trying to help them seems wasted. Although Karl and Noah may not be able to speak with each other, they share a special bond as brothers that is hard to give up. Karl's misuse of drugs not only worsened his problems with Noah, but it also restricted him from fulfilling his full potential as a student.
    Overall, I find this book to be amusing, but lacking in parts such as the beginning where the author repeatedly speaks about his brother's situation over and over again. If you are a reader who would love to gain new perspectives on having autistic kin, this book would be excellent and could help you truly understand what people have to go through. But beware, the ending is a big letdown and there are also parts where the author tends to drone on about the same topics.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted October 13, 2011

    Great emotions but lacking true perspective.

    For my outside reading book, I took the challenge of reading Boy Alone: A Brother's Memoir by Karl Taro Greenfeld. Having many of my friends and relatives with autistic children, I was able to clearly understand the difficulties and hardships that Karl and his family had to go through. Although this book contained great details and experiences, it really lacked in the ending when Karl reveals that Noah had indeed never gotten better. It was a huge disappointment and ruined the flow and interest of the story, even though it was the truth. I, however, like the way Greenfeld explained his own personal experiences and how they were deeply affected by Noah's autism. Having an autistic brother not only affected his social life, but also took a toll on him physically. His misuse of drugs and the way he wrote about these experiences really grabbed my attention. Overall, I found this book to be amusing but lacking in parts such as the beginning where the author repeatedly spoke about his brother's situation over and over again. If you are a reader who would love to gain new perspectives on having autistic kin, this book would be excellent and help you truly understand what people have to go through. But beware, the ending is a big letdown and there are also parts where the author tends to drone on about the same topics.

    Was this review helpful? Yes  No   Report this review
  • Posted October 11, 2010

    gripping & compelling, but lacks...

    I chose to read this memoir con account of my growing curiosity in Autism -- especially in Autistic children. I grew up without any interaction with a severely developmentally disabled children. I began this book believing that I would get a keen insight of a life with an Autistic child -- AND I DID. Greenfeld remains candid with his words throughout the entire book. He pours out all his frustrations, sometimes bitter resentment, and confusions regarding Noah. As a reader, I watched his family fall apart as they try to fight with the burden of living with such a child, and the haunting thoughts to send him to an institution. As a reader, I felt as if I was standing next to Karl the entire time. I felt as if Noah was my OWN brother and I was dealing with his problems too. A great portion of Greenfeld's book was dedicated to intensive research, and I greatly commend him for it. His book is grand with originality, and entwined with intriguing events -- some that make you go, "aww," and others that make you want to erupt with anger. His book is truly touching and compelling -- it opens your eyes to Autism and urges you to be more understanding of other families' situations. This book is intense and absorbing, but lacks a few crucial aspects. There is a big difference between being interesting and being thrilling. The book was interesting and it kept me reading (partially because of my passion for Autism) but I feel that it lacks some kind of luster and thrill. To others, this memoir may seem somewhat dull. The reason I believe that leads to this statement, I believe, is because of Greenfeld's tendency to "tell" more than "show." I expected to be truly touched with the emotions that Greenfeld carries within himself as he lives with Noah, but I was dissatisfied when I closed the book. He doesn't reveal his feelings from his heart, like he should. Instead, he tends to inform the reader with nothing but words scribbled from his hands. When Karl was upset, I wanted to feel upset. When he was sad, I wanted to feel sad. However, I did not feel any of those emotions. Sure, the events that happened were tragic, but Greenfeld chooses to state those moments in a more informative way as one would do in a Bibliography or historical document of some sort. Sometimes words seem to string together dully. I really wanted my HEART to be touched; only the exterior of myself was touched by this story. His family situations are tragic enough to do so, but Greenfeld weakens the powerful effect of it all by leaving out emotions. On the bright side, this is a fascinating, dark, and painful book -- one that I would recommend to others. It is a good book for class discussions.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted February 21, 2011

    No text was provided for this review.

  • Anonymous

    Posted August 31, 2010

    No text was provided for this review.

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