The Perfect Son
About the Book:
From a distance, Felix Fitzwilliam, the son of an old English family, is a good husband and father. But, obsessed with order and routine, he’s a prisoner to perfection. Disengaged from the emotional life of his North Carolina family, Felix has let his wife, Ella, deal with their special-needs son by herself.
A talented jewelry designer turned full-time mother, Ella is the family rock…until her heart attack shatters their carefully structured existence. Now Harry, a gifted teen grappling with the chaos of Tourette’s, confronts a world outside his parents’ control, one that tests his desire for independence.
As Harry searches for his future, and Ella adapts to the limits of her failing health, Felix struggles with his past and present roles. To prevent the family from being ripped apart, they must each bend with the inevitability of change and reinforce the ties that bind.
Being the mom of a special-needs child is tough (ok, being a mom in general is tough, but having a child who doesn't do what the other kids do and who does things they don't gives you a unique path to follow). I know, I'm the mom of a son with autism. His special needs meant my kids did not go to our neighborhood school or our parish school. His special needs may be one reason I've never had the "joy" of sitting at the playground watching football, baseball, basketball...games. His special needs meant he was kicked out of a Catholic high school. His special needs meant that we spent lots of money on doctors, therapists, and medicines. His special needs meant that I never had to deal with sibling rivalry. His special needs mean that at 23 he has no desire to get a full time job (though he does well with his part time job) or go to school or move out. His special needs mean that I spent a LOT of time in parent-teacher conferences.
Ella is the mother of a special needs child, Harry. Harry has ADHD and Tourette's syndrome. He makes involuntary movements and has difficulty concentrating for long periods of time. He takes a drugstore worth of medicines daily. He is also brilliant and has blown the top out of the SAT. Part of the reason Harry has done so well, despite his disability is Ella. She has sought the best treatment, run interference with the school and otherwise done her best to see that Harry gets the best. She's a helicopter mom who really has had a reason to hover. Then, one day, she has a heart attack and while in the hospital, she realizes how much she has done for Harry, and how little her husband has done, and how little Harry can do for himself. Perhaps out of love, perhaps out of exhaustion, and perhaps for both reasons, Ella decides that Harry and his father are going to have to deal with each other without her running interference. She unplugs her phone and they are lost.
Ella's husband has become more and more emotionally distant from the family and while readers are given glimpses into why early in the book, it isn't until close to the end that Ella learns why. As readers we watch Felix and Harry get to know each other and lean on each other. Other characters of note are the senior citizen lady next door and Ella's best friend (who Felix can't stand). All pull together to help Ella.
One thing that is hard for all parents is letting adult or near-adult kids live their own lives and make their own mistakes. There are times I want to go up to my daughter's college, put her on a curfew and make her do things the right way. On the other hand, she made the Dean's List the last two semesters so she must be doing something right. Harry is looking at colleges. Ella has a plan but now that Felix is in charge, he has a different plan. I loved Harry's plan and loved that Felix was able to let go and let him carry it out.
Barbara Claypole White is a talented writer who creates multi-dimensional characters. This book was a joy to read and I'm glad I was able to get a copy via NetGalley. Grade: A.