Saturday, 14 June 2014

Review: The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida

UK book cover of The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida
I think it was Ellie who first introduced me to The Reason I Jump during one of our shopping trips. I nodded, agreed that the concept sounded vaguely interesting and then moved on. However in April I suddenly began to desperately want this book, so I ran out, bought it, and read it the very next day.

Summary: Written by Naoki Higashida when he was only thirteen, this remarkable book provides a rare insight into the often baffling behaviour of autistic children. Using a question and answer format, Naoki explains things like why he talks loudly or repeats the same questions, what causes him to have panic attacks, and why he likes to jump. He also shows the way he thinks and feels about his world - other people, nature, time and beauty, and himself. Abundantly proving that people with autism do possess imagination, humour and empathy, he also makes clear how badly they need our compassion, patience and understanding.

Please keep in mind that I'm reviewing this from the perspective of an average reader, just as I would any other book.  

This book came about through David Mitchell, the award-winning author of Cloud Atlas and other novels. His wife, Keiko Yoshida, came across the Japanese edition while searching for help relating to their autistic son and then worked on an English translation in order to help others. While it's interesting to know the background, I couldn't help but feel that the introduction cheapened the book a little - I didn't need David Mitchell to tell me how autistic children are people too and how much they struggle. Naoki Higashida did that well enough on his own and it felt like Mr Mitchell was stood behind him patting him condescendingly on the head.

Anyway. The Reason I Jump isn't a memoir or an autobiography, which I think is what I was (unfairly) expecting. Instead it's actually a FAQ about living with autism, answered by a thirteen year old Japanese boy. There are 58 questions and the answers are approximately a page each in quite large font. Interspersed are four short stories written by the author himself.

The benefit of this is the perspective of a sufferor themselves - not their parent or a psychologist and what can be more accurate than a person telling you how they are feeling. The downside is that it's not all that enlightening. Essentially, it's:

Q: Why do you... (ignore us, echo questions, etc)
A: Because we do. We can't help it.

x 58.

This was interesting at first but because it doesn't really expand beyond the above, it got a little repetitive and I lost interest. I think I unfairly expected The Reason I Jump to be moving when it's written as more of a manual to understanding autism and the related symptoms. It's a list of things to do and not do when interacting with an autistic child:

Please never laugh at us, even when we're doing a less than great job.
Please don't judge us from the outside only.
Please try to understand what we're going through.
Please don't tell us off.


However, there were some questions that resonated with me. It's difficult to explain which parts I found interesting and which I didn't, but I realised that some actions towards an autistic person might affect them in a way I had never considered:

Q16: Is it true that you hate being touched?
   ...for a person with autism, being touched by someone else means that the toucher is exercising control over a body, which even its owner can't properly control. It's as if we lose who we are. Think about it - that's terrifying!

I feel bad even thinking this, but I actually felt a little bit patronised. It seemed as though I was being looked down on for being healthy... or gently chided, anyway. 

   I think it's very difficult for you to to properly get your heads around just how hard it is for us to express what we're feeling. For us, dealing with the pain by treating it as if it's already gone is actually easier than letting other people know we are in pain.
   Normal people think we're highly dependant and can't live without ongoing support, but in fact there are times when we're stoic heroes.
I think this may have been one of the parts heavily edited by David Mitchell and his wife. Read this article for a thorough background, but basically his wife translated the original and then David Mitchell altered the prose. How much is left of Naoki Higashida's work? Instinct says not a lot. The prose alternates between lecturing and rambling quite philosophically, alternating between a very adult tone and an almost childish one. I'd be interested to read a different (direct and accurate) translation of the same work.

The other issue is the large amount of sweeping statements about what all children with autism do, because of course there isn't any such thing. The effects of autism differs hugely from person to person, and I'd have thought that Naoki (of all people) would have known that. It doesn't really discuss the spectrum; here, all autistic people are the same, with the same behavioural characteristics. This is concerning because it occasionally states that you should absolutely never do a certain thing that I know has helped people in my life with autism (like the use of schedules). Perhaps another thing that was confused during translation?

The last thing I want to do is take away what Naoki Higashida has achieved just by putting this book together. It's a huge accomplishment and the painstaking effort that must have gone into The Reason I Jump is almost incomprehensible. I believe that my issue with it relates to the translation which seems to have taken advantage - David Mitchell's name on the cover is the same size as Naoki's, after all. 

There were some very interesting questions that provided insight in a way that had never even occurred to me, but on the whole it's a fairly repetetive manual that I have difficulty believing is anything like the original.

Again, this is my opinion on a book that I read out of interest, as a standard reader. If you have a go at me, I will delete your comment.


  1. I've got this on my Kindle. I think I am expecting something different too, it's a shame that it seems like Mitchell hs taken over a lot of it, but maybe there wasn't much material initially. Who knows.

  2. I finally read your review - and YES YES ALL THE YESES. I'm so glad I'm not the only one NOT fawning over this book - and I'm also worried that some of the concerned parents who ARE fawning over it as some kind of miracle 'how-to guide' are mistaking Higashida's very subjective preferences and ideas for golden rules thanks to the way they're put across. Buuuut we already discussed this, so I'll stop there. Such a shame, it had such potential! On the plus side, I just made a space on my bookcase, which is always nice. :)


Grab my Button

Booking in Heels

Booking In Heels Copyright 2008 Fashionholic Designed by Ipiet Templates Supported by Tadpole's Notez