Sunday, February 7, 2010

Review: A Slant of Sun by Beth Kephart

The journey into parenthood is always accompanied by surprises. Children never read the handbooks that purport to explain them or offer advice about raising them. And that's just for kids who fit firmly into the herd of "normal." How much harder is it to parent a child who doesn't fit this definition? Beth Kephart's son Jeremy was very young when he was diagnosed with pervasive developmental disorder (not otherwise specified). As her oldest (only) child, Kephart and her husband had no other frame of reference with which to compare Jeremy's behaviour (screaming and terror around strangers, echolalia, obsessive fixations, and an almost autistic retreat into his own world) but it eventually became clear that Jeremy's behaviour was different and warranted examination.

The diagnosis of PDD (NOS) was not a blessing since there was no reliable and proven method for helping these kids or their parents cope with the behaviours and eventually ease the kids into a childhood not marked by difference and struggle but one of normalcy and celebration. This book is Kephart's memoir of trying to do just that for her special boy. She chronicles the uncertainty before the diagnosis, her feelings of failure as a parent, the sense of inadequacy in understanding Jeremy, guilt over possible sources for his disorder, and her fledgling attempts at both recommended therapy and the self-designed therapy that she knows in her heart to be the correct way to reach her little guy. This book chronicles quite a journey, made in fits and starts, with progress and regressions, but all focused on helping Jeremy fit into the world as it is.

It is clear in the writing in this book that Kephart is a poet. The stunning turns of phrase and the juxtaposition of images all point to poetry. She has captured and shared raw emotion, love, frustration, anger, joy, desperation, grief, and confusion in these pages. She lovingly details Jeremy and who he is without sugar-coating the difficulty of having such an undefinable child. This book will not provide a road map for other parents of children with PDD(NOS) because there is no such road map out there. Each child is unique, hence the catch-all diagnosis. But what it does provide is hope and a pervading sense of the power of love. There is a grace here in these words and a deep love for her son. Over all, the narrative is chronological but there's a dreamy feel to it thanks to the descriptive and emotional language. This may stymie some readers and those who are searching for a straightforward account could stumble over the style. But there is much to be gained by reading this account of the grace found in parenting a different, sometimes difficult child, even for those of us who have never faced obstacles like this.


  1. This sounds like an amazing read, for the language alone. I especially liked what you wrote here: "But what it does provide is hope and a pervading sense of the power of love."

  2. I've never been disappointed by this author.


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