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Best Boy: A Novel by Eli Gottlieb

Best Boy: A Novel (2015)

by Eli Gottlieb

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1981459,376 (3.87)11
  1. 00
    The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon (novelcommentary)
    novelcommentary: Similar point of view
  2. 00
    Good Kings, Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum (akblanchard)
    akblanchard: Both books take place inside institutions for people with disabilities.

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Todd Aaron, a man in his 40s, has spent so much time in an institution (Peyton Living Center) that he is known as one of their "ambassadors," assigned to give tours to incoming patients. It's never exactly stated what Todd's problem is, but clearly he is on the autism spectrum. His voice (as narrated by Bronson Pinchot) is flat, except when he is overly anxious or afraid; he doesn't like to be touched; he has some odd habits and practices repetitive gestures. Things happen to and around Todd, but he doesn't react as most people would; he has little sense of appropriate v. inappropriate and is often taken advantage of This is his story, narrated by Todd from the perspective of the world as he sees it. He takes us back to memories of the father who brutalized him, the mother who loved him and carted him off to a series of doctors and institutions, the brother who was cruel to him. We see what it's like for Todd to almost fall in love with the one-eyed Martine, to long to be welcomed into his brother's home, to fear the staff member he calls Mike the Apron.

Call me jaded, but I found this novel just a bit too sweet and many of the characters stereotypical. I stuck with it to the end, but overall, it was a mediocre read/listen for me. ( )
  Cariola | Jun 16, 2017 |
Payton Living Center was the sixth place in row Momma had taken me but neither of us knew it was the one where I'd stay forever and ever."
So begins Eli Gottlieb's novel called Best Boy, narrated by a 52 year old autistic man named Todd Aaron. Life in Payton Village has been okay for Todd, who tries to live up to the pet name his mother called him and the title of the story. Todd's experience with a manipulative staff member, his attraction to another female patient and his desire to go back home and live with his brother make up the plot of the novel and provide insights into the mind of this special needs character. Much like The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime, Best Boy does a nice job of describing the emotions and triggers that affect the narrator's thinking. Evidently the author has had some personal insights regarding a sibling with autism. Hopefully he was nicer than the brother presented here. ( )
  novelcommentary | Jun 6, 2017 |
Spoilery. Other than as a sensitive depiction of the life and times of an autistic man, I can’t really see the point of the book. Sure, it’s written well and reasonably entertaining, but there is no definitive struggle or clash that needs resolving. Todd suffers the ups and downs of humanity like the rest of us, albeit in some more vulnerable ways than “neurotypicals” have to deal with. There’s a sinister staff member at the group home he resides at and there’s some tension there, but it all comes to basically nothing. Ditto with Todd’s brother and the situation about the money. Todd ends up back at the home with no harm done. As a matter of fact the two thorns in his side, the aide and his roommate are gone. He has a new understanding with his sister-in-law and has tangible evidence of how much his mother loved him before she died. The letter was lovely and touching, but I had to put aside my desire for some kind of conflict or point to the book and once I did that it became easier to deal with. I think if I hadn’t listened to this narrated by the incomparable Bronson Pinchot, I might have left it a DNF. All right in its way, but really just a thinly veiled treatise on how we should accept the “neuro-different” and how really they are just like us. Except not. ( )
  Bookmarque | May 18, 2016 |
This story opens on a heartbreaking note as Todd Aaron, an autistic man now in his 50s, describes arriving at his first assisted-living facility when he was only 11 years old. He remembers his mother tearfully telling him he would love it there and promises that she and his father would visit often. She tries to put Todd in a good mood with banter that is special between the two of them. Before she surprises him by driving away without him, he's told he should always remember who really loves him and she asks him to always be a Best Boy.

This very special story will have you thinking about your interact with the developmentally disabled and the way you are viewed by autistic children and adults. But more amazing is the way they and in this story, Todd, interpret the world and see you. You will be shocked by the abuse and ease with which family and strangers take advantage of the innocent.

It will come as a surprise that an autistic man incapable of expressing himself verbally is capable of reading and digesting the Encyclopedia Britannica. You will be overwhelmed by the frustration and yearning he feels as he searches to identify why he is seen differently from the "world out there". It will be impossible not to feel sympathy and love for this man. You will be lost with him in his loneliness and search for the meaning of love and home.

Behind his quiet, often silent, visage runs a mind that sees things, feels emotions, and is capable of thinking independently. He is just unable to express himself to others in their language code.
In the scene where he tries to tell his brother, Nate, about a new counselor that scares him he thinks,

"I wanted to tell him all about the bad thing that Mike the Apron was going to bring into my life and that I knew it, just knew it. I wanted to tell him that his face gave off the same sour hot feeling as the face of our father and that he was a creeping coyote-person who was going to hurt the lamb of Greta Deane and sooner or later do something terrible to me. But I didn't know how to say that…".

The story, in my opinion, was very dark and so very sad. With the exception of his mother, and one caring staff member, Todd was always the victim of abuse of some kind. It was hard to believe at times that the world could be so continuously cruel. I was disappointed that those who persecuted Todd the most didn't get the justice they deserved. I personally wanted to flog his brother in the end.

Overall and despite the tension and sadness, I felt compelled to read as fast as I could always hoping and praying that Todd would find the peace and love he so richly deserved. ( )
  Itzey | Jan 23, 2016 |
Four Stars for this incredible book. The writing is superb; the images are crisp and clear, and the character development is outstanding. Now past midlife, Todd Aaron has lived in the Payton institution most of his life. Big, bulky and unkempt, 50 plus year old Todd is highly intelligent. He is given many labels, mainly he suffers from acute anxiety and is on the autistic spectrum. Smart enough to use the computer and search the definition of his labels, he delves into as much information he can find.

Told from the perspective of Todd, we learn of his fears and joys, both which cause the desire to bite his hand until it bleeds. The vivid descriptions of how he processes events lends to a fascinating tale of obsessions, hurts, and, despite his imbalance, there are moments of keen insight into the personalities of many. Both parents are dead. He mourns his mother. Because his father was very abusive, Todd immediately knows that the new hire is a bad, bad guy. Unable to explain why he feels this, Todd draws further into himself, trying to stop the "bolts of electricity" which make him out of control.

When introduced to a new girl at the institution, he immediately feels warm and seeks ways and occasions to interact with her. Sliding on uncharted territory, he seeks to learn how to draw her closer.

Added to the challenge is a new room mate who goads him and drives him to the edge of loosing control. To find peace, under the coaxing of the new girl, he stops taking some of his medications. While juggling feelings of desire for companionship from the female, he is stressed three fold, knowing his room mate is exceptionally cruel, and the nasty new hire reminds him of his father's abuses, Todd flees the compound, searching for home.

Highly recommended!
1 vote Whisper1 | Jan 12, 2016 |
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Payton Living Center was the sixth place in row Momma had taken me but neither of us knew it was the one where I'd stay forever and ever.
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