Well, it happened. My book got a bad review this week.
Not bad bad, not over-the-top terrible. Let’s just call it lukewarm. It wasn’t gushing or glowing, it didn’t commend the book for cracking open the myth that is autism and revealing our family to the world. It did not admire the front cover with all five of my children decked out in matching red vests or talk about how hilarious I am. Nope, none of these things.
I mean, I get bad reviews all the time. Things like this oatmeal is cold and why didn’t you wash my favorite jersey and what do you mean you still can’t do a pull-up. Just this week I was in the mall, trying on a beautiful sleeveless pink dress, and the saleswoman told me I had big shoulders. I was in a complete tailspin for the rest of my shopping trip.
(They are getting kind of big though. Dang Crossfit.)
And for the most part, I can handle criticism with some grace. Everyone has a right to their opinions about cereal and laundry and even my shoulders. (And maybe, just maybe I did ask the saleswoman if the dress made my shoulders look wide.) But this book, it is my heart and soul typed out on paper.
Technically, this isn’t my first lukewarm review, because someone else posted that I used the word bray too often. Bray? I thought to myself after I read it. Did I use it excessively? I had to stop myself from reaching out to this reviewer and saying something like maybe you should come on over and listen to my son at dinnertime, especially if we’re having chicken pot pie. Then, you will see that I actually exercised restraint with the term bray: I held back. Really, the boy brays.
But this new review is not great. I got three stars out of five. That’s technically 60%. Someone liked my book 60%.
It cut me down, folks.
My stomach dropped the first time I saw it. I read and re-read and read it again, and then I reached for the phone to call Joe at work. Generously, he obsessed with me about this person’s motive and what every word meant. But after a few minutes he admitted that he was trying to get a patient to go numb for some toothy procedure and he couldn’t talk about this anymore. I hung up in a huff and turned back to my computer screen, where the three bright yellow stars stared at me, mockingly.
See, I’m used to a rating of four or five stars, accompanied by really kind words about my writing and my message and my blue-eyed boy. I mean, my 79-year old father-in-law read it and he had nothing but nice things to say. He even cried.
Obviously, I expected to get a bad/lukewarm review at some point, and I expected it to sting a little. But I was wrong, because it stung a LOT. To be honest, it kind of ruined my morning.
It’s difficult not to feel defensive, because the truth is I don’t have a whole lot of experience writing. Back in September, Joe and I were sitting at a teacher conference with Joey’s teacher, the amazing Mr. Hines. (Joey’s words! Not mine!) Mr. Hines was describing how he teaches fourth grade kids to write. He used a piece of scrap paper to draw a picture of a table, explaining how the table top represents the main idea of a story, the legs are the supporting thoughts, and the tablecloth and vase of flowers decorative descriptions. Brilliant! I thought to myself. Wish I had that when I was, you know, writing a book all summer. It took everything I had not to ask if I could take the slip of loose leaf home.
And as you can imagine, I have even less experience with autism than I do with writing. I’ve been putting words to paper in some shape or form since I was a first-grader, but I’ve only been working with this tricky spectrum disorder for eight years now.
For two days these words nagged at me and gave me a pit in my stomach. I worried that people would read it, and I felt ashamed of myself. The project lost its shine. But then I realized the best way to deal with my lukewarm review was to put it out there for the world to see, the same way I do with Jack and our family and autism. To own it the same way I own my arguments with Joe and my bad parenting decisions with these kids and my ugly purple purse. Because if I let every critical word, every judgment bring me down, I’d never leave the house in a sleeveless dress again.
I had become accustomed to the wonderful compliments from loved ones and teachers and friends. I got comfortable, and this critical feedback took me by surprise. But in some ways, it’s a metaphor for motherhood and Jack; just when I relaxed with my two baby boys in matching snowflake pajamas, the early symptoms of autism hit me like a ton of bricks.
But, like with autism, I will learn from all of my reviews. I will grow and change as a writer the same way I did as a mother.
Because in the end, I wrote this book so people could interpret it their own way, and see the color in autism through their own lens; the same way encourage Jack to see the world through his. Ultimately, I did not write it for reviews or praise—I wrote it for four boys, one girl, and a dark-haired man. I wrote it for myself.
Just in case you were wondering, I did a search of my Word document for the book to see how many times I used “bray”. Five.
That reviewer must own a horse or something.