Book Review: Best Boy by Eli Gottlieb

Title: Best Boy

Author: Eli Gottlieb

Genre: Literary Fiction

Number of Pages: 256

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes

Tender, thought-provoking, and sad, Best Boy is the story of an autistic man named Todd Aaron living in a group home. Todd is in his 50’s and is one of the home’s oldest residents. He was abused by his dad but has fond memories of his doting mother. His younger brother Nate is very dismissive of him and gets mad when Todd tries get him let him move in with Nate’s family.

When a new employee named Mike starts working at his group home, Todd immediately gets seriously bad vibes from him but nobody believes him. They think he just has issues with other men because of his bad experiences with his father but the truth is that Todd sees something evil in the man that other people just aren’t aware of.

Mike starts manipulating the vulnerable Todd and his attempts to move into his brother’s place are met with frustration and antagonism. This novel was hard to read at times but it’s by far one of the better books about autism I’ve read in a long time. Todd is a well-developed character whose voice is strong and distinctive, standing out amid lots of generic ASD protagonists who talk and act like robots.

I also really liked that the book went into Todd’s sexuality and his experiences as an older virgin, which a lot of similar books are afraid to handle. Apparently this is a (sort-of) sequel to The Boy Who Went Away, which I’ve never read- which is strange to me because the family in The Boy Who Went Away has strong similarities to Todd’s but all the names are different.

I’m not sure why the author decided to do this or whether he even intended it to be a ‘sequel’ or more of a ‘thematically linked’ deal. The ending of Best Boy made me sad but I also felt like it was a little bit abrupt. The plot threads just seemed to fall into place quickly and I would have liked to have seen Todd have more of a character arc.

I’m not sure if he grew at all as a person or if the situation just changed and he settled into the inevitability of that situation. After several disappointing books about characters on the spectrum (I’m looking at you, The Extraordinary) it was nice to read a book where the author managed to avoid stereotyping his protagonist and explored his character beyond the usual trapping of the genre.

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