Review of THE PERFECT SON by Barbara Claypole White

perfect sonElla Fitzwilliam is a mom devoted to her unique son, Harry. After many false medical opinions, Harry was finally diagnosed with Tourette Syndrome.

Their lives had been soldered together by the rainbow of special needs.

Even with medication and therapy, Harry struggles to control the tics that overtake his body. Most of the time, he hardly notices them.  But sometimes the stress is just too great, and he can’t control his movements.

…the complex tics that manifested as demonic possession? Those built up inside like tremors warning of a volcanic explosion.

Ella has mothered him through seventeen years of Tourette’s, though barely surviving his two years of rage attacks. Although mother and son are close to inseparable, Harry’s father, Felix, prefers to parent from a safe distance. An investment banker wearing a perpetual frown, Felix is as compulsive about work as he is everything else. He can’t tolerate his neat, color-coded to-do lists not being followed to the letter, shoes not put where they belong, or a glass set on the coffee table without a coaster.  A control freak. Ironically, the polar opposite of his son.

Each parent has mastered his and her role in their family drama, at least to all appearances. But an unexpected calamity forces a painful change in casting. Felix must finally learn to be a hands-on father – something he’d never thought he had the ability to be. Now Harry needs him in a way he never had before, and Felix comes to realize he needs a bond with his son just as much.

White’s depiction of raising a child with a neurological disorder tugs at my own fears and insecurities of motherhood. Ella’s daily struggle to protect Harry, and help him adjust to the outside world is almost a living thing I can reach out and touch. Felix’s insecurity at being an involved parent is just as touching; his struggle to be the father Harry needs is full of anxiety and fear, but also replete with love and hope.

Felix is the perfect antihero – at first, not a likable sort, but I soon grew to admire his perseverance and strength. White’s plot takes us through Felix’s metamorphosis not only as parent, but as husband, friend, and employee.  To survive the situation in which his family finds themselves, Felix must reevaluate his priorities, admit his shortcomings, and decide what parts of his perfectly choreographed role must change to overcome his fear, and care for his wife and son.

White has masterfully bared the souls of her characters to us, allowing us to live through both their physical and emotional challenges with them. Thank you, Barbara, for bringing this family to life, and reminding us there is no such thing as being perfect.

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