I am beyond excited to introduce you to Ido Kedar’s In Two Worlds, a beautifully written, powerful novel about life with non-verbal autism.
Some months ago, I teased you by telling you that I was helping edit an extraordinary novel and that I would let you know as soon as the book was published. Today is that day. I am incredibly excited to introduce you to In Two Worlds, by Ido Kedar. It’s currently available only in hard copy, but I understand that it will soon be available in e-book form too, both on Amazon and Smashwords.
In Two Worlds tells the story of Anthony, a boy with non-verbal autism. When the book begins, seven-year-old Anthony is completely locked-in: He understands everything around him, but is unable to communicate and has only limited control over his body. His loving parents are doing everything they can for him, but only Anthony knows what the expert advice and programs fail to comprehend — and therefore to treat — which is that there is a complete human being buried under the compulsions and trapped in the silence. Meanwhile, Anthony’s behaviors upset the balance at home and keep him trapped in an education program aimed at children who are incapable of learning.
Over the next 300 or so pages, this elegantly written book takes the reader through the next decade in Anthony’s life, as he struggles against his own physical limitations and the systemic constraints under which he’s forced to operate, and then, at long last, as he is introduced to a new program that brings him out of the world of Autismland and places him firmly in real life. In Two Worlds is beautifully structured, because as Anthony’s world expands, the reader’s view of his world expands too. That is, while the book is almost invariably written from Anthony’s viewpoint, as he matures and begins to see and understand what other people are doing and experiencing we, the reader, also begin to understand what drives those around him.
Each character in the book is exquisitely delineated. Even though it’s apparent that some characters exist to represent a point of view within the world of autism (autistic children, educators, family members, experts), all are well-rounded individuals, rather than cardboard ciphers. In this regard, it’s important to appreciate that Ido hasn’t written a preachy polemic; he’s written a rich, full, well-rounded novel — although don’t be surprised if you come away having learned important things about autism and about the world in which Americans with disabilities, and their loving, frustrated, frightened families, function.
I’m actually scared to give away too much of the plot, lest I spoil some of the wonders of this first-time novel. Instead, I’ll finish this review by introducing you to the book’s author, Ido Kedar, and by focusing on the book’s stylistic beauty, which is both a by-product of Ido’s physical limitations and a testament to his skill as a writer.
Long-time readers are familiar with Ido Kedar because I reviewed here his first book, Ido in Autismland: Climbing Out of Autism’s Silent Prison, a non-fiction compilation of the diaries he began keeping when he turned
seven twelve. As is the case with Anthony, the protagonist in Ido’s In Two Worlds, Ido was also born with non-verbal autism. Unlike Anthony, Ido’s parents were able to introduce him to a means of communication when he was seven, so he walked a very different path from his fictional non-alter ego, a boy who remains trapped in complete silence for so much longer than Ido did. (You can learn more about Ido’s real world here.)
In casual conversation, Ido communicates with a letter board, which someone else holds and on which Ido taps out the letters of the alphabet. He’s incredibly fast at this, but the fact that a
third second person is involved has led skeptics to claim that it’s the third second person, the one holding the letter board, who is doing the communication, rather than Ido himself.
As it happens, I know Ido very well and can tell you with absolutely certainty that when Ido’s on the letter board, it’s all Ido. He’s a young man blessed with great intellectual curiosity, a wonderfully informed mind, a rich vocabulary, and a delightful, sardonic sense of humor.
For those who continue to doubt, you can watch footage of Ido tapping out on an iPad, something that’s harder for him because the letters are smaller than on his board, but that effectively does away with any claims that Ido is not entirely his own man. The videos, which you can find on his website, haven’t been updated in a few years, but this one, from two years ago, is still representative of Ido’s communication abilities:
As you can see, Ido’s writing is painfully slow. I want you to think about writing a 300-page book at that speed — one word at a time, slowly, slowly, slowly. Reading the book, though, one has no sense of the intense labor that went into it. Instead, the reader is only aware of the benefit flowing from that labor, which is the fact that every word counts. This is one of the most tightly written books I’ve ever read — nothing is extraneous, everything has meaning, every description is powerful, every point appropriate. Hemingway couldn’t have done better.
Moreover, as I said above, Ido’s writing and thinking are both elegant and witty. From the very first chapter, he wraps you up in the world of non-verbal autism: The intense sensory experiences, the irresistible impulses, and the autistic child’s necessarily passive-aggressive efforts to assert some control over his life. Ido also carries the reader along with his humor. Most chapters end with a perfect and pointed epigrammatic sentence that sums up a character or event in a comprehensive way that makes the reader laugh, even while feeling the weight of the struggles that Anthony and his family experience.
I helped edit this book, so I should say a word about that. After all, when the author is a young man with a congenital condition that severely constrains his ability to communicate, some people will assume that the phrase “helped edit” is a euphemism for “helped write.” Nothing could be further from the truth. I, along with the others who proofread the book, needed to edit with an incredibly light touch.
My edits consisted of fixing typos, pointing out passive voice (something I think should be kept to a minimum), inserting Oxford commas (although Ido and I disagree on that, so the book has no Oxford commas), and asking questions or making observations: “Was it Anthony’s mother or father speaking here?” “Would this sentence work better as a metaphor than a simile?” “That statement seems out of character for the character.” My most frequent observation was “This paragraph is so good.”
In other words, Ido is a writer’s writer. This is an important point because I think there’s a possibility that some people might be inclined to dismiss the book as “probably a good book by an autistic person.’ That is totally wrong. This is a good book under any metric, only it so happens that the gifted writer happens to have autism.
At bottom, although In Two Worlds is about an autistic person, an experience that Ido knows first hand, it’s about so much more: It’s about communication and mis-communication, it’s about helplessness and perseverance, it’s about family dynamics, it’s about the pressing weight of expertise, and it’s about the people one meets in the world of special education (the good, the bad, and the ugly). I cannot recommend this book highly enough. Through the editing process, I’ve read it three or four times now, and each read-through has been a pleasure — and a surprise because each time I re-read the book, I discovered nuances I’d missed on prior readings.
If you’re interested in autism, read this book.
If you’re interested in the effect disability has on family dynamics, read this book.
If you’re interested in special education, read this book.
And if you enjoy reading beautifully written books that draw you in, take you on a journey, and vastly expand your horizons, read this book.