by Keiko Tobe
published by Yen Press; $14.99 US
Most people, when they think of manga, think of fantasy adventures starring teenagers. With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child is perhaps the most different kind of story possible… which makes it even more powerful. It focuses on the struggles faced by a mother with a special child.
As indicated by its subtitle, With the Light is a well-researched portrayal of the challenges faced by a family when their baby boy is determined to be autistic. First, there’s the problem of knowing something is wrong with Hikaru (whose name means “light”) without knowing what it is. Diagnosis is complicated because most people are unfamiliar with autism, or worse, are misinformed, thinking it’s a kind of depression or blaming the mother for poor parenting.
There are plenty of useful and clear pieces of information included, making the book informative and educational, but the real impact is emotional, due to the struggles the father and especially the mother go through. At one point, they risk being driven apart by the demands of their child. Both have to learn when to ask for help and how to be clear about their situation to others. Nothing is simple with an autistic child, not medical treatment or kindergarten or even keeping him inside their home.
As drawn by Keiko Tobe, Hikaru and his mother both have the large, luminous eyes many associate with manga art. For her, they reinforce her pain and confusion; for him, they make him seem vaguely inhuman. His glassy stare seems to see things the rest of us don’t perceive and shows his inability to cope with the everyday world. Great attention is paid to the details of the ordinary settings that provide challenges to Hikaru, grounding his experiences.
In over 500 pages, we see Hikaru grow from birth to a school-age child. His parents care for him, love him (even when it’s a struggle), and fight for him. It’s inspiring to see challenges overcome, heart-warming even to the point of raising tears. While some people react to him with fear and disgust, others want to learn and help however they can. For some, it takes being shown the hypocrisy of their behavior to understand why Hikaru needs special concessions.
This book is an affecting portrait of how a little consideration for others can make a life-changing difference. Even though his mother struggles with her own fears and petty jealousies — asking herself why her child can’t be like the others — her love keeps her working for the best for her baby. But that doesn’t make things easy, just rewarding. Like this book.