Title: Falling Short
Author: Ernesto Cisneros
Genre: Juvenile Non-Fiction
What's it about?
Franklin is lost. His people left him outside when they went on vacation and he's been left to figure out how to survive on his own ever since. Admittedly, he's done pretty well. He's survived and remain healthy, at least. But he's desperate for some security, a place to live and food he can depend on. Then he happens to catch Gus's eye as he stars out the window and when Gus's mom comes to investigate what Gus is staring at, she finds Franklin and decides to adopt him.
Inside, Franklin meets Chester, a service dog and Chester's boy, Gus who has Autism. Franklin isn't what he thinks about his new home, though he knows he really does not like his new name. But he has come to like Chester. Chester is teaching Franklin a lot. But then it becomes clear that Gus's family can't keep Franklin. He's a furry cat and Gus's dad is allergic.
So the mission to find Franklin a new home starts. Thankfully, they find him a home with Amelia, a girl in Gus's class who loves cats. She's been through a lot recently and making friends isn't easy for her, which means that adopting Franklin couldn't happen a better time. But what if things are about to get even harder and they learn that Amelia might have Autism, too? That's a hard thing to hear and, even for Franklin, now called Benjamin Franklin, to understand. If Gus and Amelia both have Autism, why are they so different? What does Autism mean? It's a transition for everyone, but all Franklin wants to do is be a friend to Amelia and help her be the best Amelia she can be.
Favorite Character: Franklin wins this title. I wasn't sure at first, I'll be honest. He does have some of that expected cat personality. You know, a superiority, cats rule and dogs drool kind of attitude. He kind of reminded me of a less sassy Sassy from the Homeward Bound movies. But...he made me laugh. He learned and changed his beliefs and perceptions based on his experiences. He had a simplistic view of life in a lot of ways but it was cute. And, like I said, he made me laugh. I also liked Chester, and expected him to be my favorite, but somehow Franklin won out in the end.
Favorite Part: My favorite part was a conversation towards the end of the book between Franklin and Chester. They were talking about Autism and what that means. They discussed things like having Autism just means that their brains work differently, not that there was anything wrong with them or that they were somehow less. They addressed that Amelia wanted friends but didn't know how to make friends or be a friend which hit really close to home because that's how my son who has mild Autism was when he was younger.
Least Favorite Part: I thought a lot about this because, well, nothing jumped out at me but then I realized I keep circling back around to the parts with Amelia's dad. He's probably one of my least favorite characters, but I didn't list him as such because he started to come around eventually and I feel like we didn't get to see enough of him to really judge so I just didn't go there. However, I did think dislike a lot of the interactions with her father. I felt like he wasn't listening to her and really hearing what she was saying. I felt like he wanted her to be someone she wasn't and put a lot of pressure on her to be that person which I wasn't a fan of. With that, said, I think he loved Amelia and I think he was trying which is why most of the interactions between them is my least favorite parts, but he's not my definitive least favorite character.
This is where it gets hard because I have a lot of feelings about this book and some of it contradicts other parts of it, which makes it difficult to express how I feel in a coherent manor so, please, bear with me here.
Portraying characters with Autism is hard. It's a huge spectrum and no two cases are exactly the same to there's no model to follow, just a bunch of characteristics and symptoms that may be there, but might not. But then, when you pick the characteristics that you want to portray, someone gets mad becuase it's too stereotypical or not accurate enough. There's no winning, so I try really hard not to be that person complaining about how an Autistic character looks. But I didn't like the way Gus was portrayed in this book.
This is a companion book to Chester and Gus written by the same author, a book which I have not read so, I will say that my opinion of him may be flawed as things may be different in Chester and Gus. However, I feel like Gus just checked off boxes. It was like they took the most stereotypical traits and made that the character. He had zero to no personality in this book and I longed to know more about him as a person, not him as someone with Autism. I liked that he had a tablet that would talk for him when he couldn't (an AAC ) but...he just felt like he was lacking something big and it didn't feel like a great portrayal of Autism. My husband, on the other hand, who works with a large amount of awesome kiddos with Autism at various points on the spectrum said that the way I described Gus is like multiple of the kiddos that he works with, that it wasn't, as he understood my description, inaccurate for many so...maybe I just don't like Gus or, as my husband suggested, it's just harder to see his personality and we don't get to really explore that in this book. I'm torn.
And the confusion goes on, because on the one hand I didn't like how Gus was portrayed, and I felt like there were some really vague comments bordering on inaccurate because of the vague nature of said comments which annoyed me, I did like the way Amelia and her current struggles with Autism was presented. I loved that she wanted the interaction but didn't know how to get it...or how to do so in a way that follows the social rules we expect everyone to follow. I loved that her obsession wasn't one that's abnormal for many girls, it had just reached a much greater intensity and that she was creative and had imagination even if it didn't express itself as one might expect in a "typical" girl.
But my favorite part about the Autism inclusion is that it opens the conversation up. It invites questions and helps readers find understanding in the behavior of others that may, on the surface seem weird or even mean. And I love that!
If I remove the annoying confusion I have about how Autism is portrayed in this book (which I've honestly still not really resolved even after multiple conversations with those around me and lots of time thinking about it) I enjoyed the story. I thought it was cute. It was fun and I appreciated that. It's not a book I wouldn't recommend but it's a books I would recommend with the disclaimer that I'm not sure how I feel about the overall portrayal of Autism in it.
What did I rate it?
I give this book a
10 cat drawings
(mostly because I'm still so confused)
But that's just what I thought. What did you think? Did you think it was done perfectly? Did you adore Gus? Or are you just as unsure as I am? Let us know in the comments.