From the back cover:
To new mother Sachiko Azuma, her baby boy is the light of her life. Accordingly, she names him Hikaru, Japanese for “to be bright.” Eager to raise her son, Sachiko gradually begins to notice that Hikaru seems a bit different from other children. He is reluctant to be held or hugged, and his growth and development appear slow. Sachiko’s suspicions are confirmed when it is suggested that Hikaru, at a year-and-a-half, may be deaf. A specialist, however, reaches a different diagnosis: autism.
With the Light (subtitled Raising an Autistic Child) is kind of like carrots. I know it’s good for me and healthy and probably a better alternative than more junky fare, but I just can’t like it as much as I ought.
The basic idea—raising awareness about autism—is successful, and the book must be commended on that front. Although I did know what autism was, I didn’t know many specifics of how the disability manifests, so I definitely feel as though I’ve learned something. Especially fascinating are all of the strategies Hikaru’s parents and teachers devise to communicate with him, particularly a chapter near the end where everyone’s combined efforts to prepare Hikaru to attend a school Field Day without freaking out (a first) are successful.
However… many of the conflicts Sachiko encounters are unrealistic. In fact, I think the book overestimates both the meanness and kindness of people. Perhaps I’m cynical, but I just can’t see school children rallying around a disabled child like they do in this book. I think he’d be in for more cruel treatment from his peers than is shown here. Likewise, I can’t imagine some of the hostile reactions Sachiko encounters from adults actually happening, either. I think it’s far more likely that people would simply not care nor offer help, rather than express sentiments like, “I wish they would just live on an island far away.”
Also, many of said conflicts are resolved too easily. Sachiko’s husband starts off as a major git, but has a change of heart and becomes supportive. Then his mother does likewise. Then a lady from the day care. Then Sachiko’s boss. Then a fellow mother with an abusive husband. You get the idea.
It’s still a good read, and I’ll continue with it, but the oversimplification of problems means that I’d hesitate to recommend it to mothers of autistic children. It’s best for educating a broader audience, but I don’t think it’d offer anything meaningful to someone actually raising an autistic child.
With the Light is published in Japan under the title Hikaru To Tomoni. It’s an ongoing series and thirteen volumes have been released. Yen Press has published three volumes so far in a two-in-one format, equivalent to six of the Japanese volumes. Releases are fairly infrequent, with the fourth and fifth volumes scheduled for March and September of 2009, respectively.