Back in 2014 I reviewed The Reason I Jump by Naoki Higashida, a highly acclaimed novel from a 13 year old Japanese boy with non-verbal autism. Not only was this book a fascinating insight into autism, a condition I knew very little about, but the story of how it reached international acclaim is also very touching.
The author David Mitchell, a few of whose books I’ve also reviewed on this blog, stumbled across Naoki Higashida’s book on Amazon.jp as he was searching for books to help him better understand his own young son’s autism. David translated The Reason I Jump into English and it has since been translated into over 30 languages, and has helped many families better connect with and understand their own autistic children. I think it’s fair to say The Reason I Jump was a life-changing book for many people.
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8: A Young Man’s Voice from the Silence of Autism is the highly-anticipated ‘sequel’ from Naoki Higashida. It is the second of his works to be translated into English, although he had already embarked on his own writing career and written some other books prior to this. Here, Naoki writes as a young man with autism and writes with such eloquence and emotion that dispels many myths about autism having anything to do with intellect.
It’s worth briefly explaining what autism is before diving into this book. Autism UK defines autism as ‘a lifelong developmental disability that affects how people perceive the world and interact with others’ and says that autistic people ‘see, hear and feel the world differently to other people’. Autistic, or neuroatypical, people’s brains process things very differently to neurotypical people, and can affect their ability to communicate or interact with others. Naoki has non-verbal autistim and, impressively, has learned how to communicate by typing out sentences on a phonetic alphabet grid. It was surprisingly difficult to find a video of Naoki communicating via this grid but here is a short trailer for Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 to give you a glimpse:
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is one of the most important books you can read this year. It certainly speaks to parents and family members of autistic children but it is a poignant read for anyone who is interested in learning more about the condition. Naoki has a beautiful mind and his writing’s exquisite, to the point it sometimes easy to forget he’s autistic and communicating with others is much harder for him.
The book is divided into short chapters in which he discusses a broad range of issues; from what it’s like to be an adult with autism, looking back at his childhood experiences, advice for parents and friends of autistic people, his relationship with his family, how his mind processes and reacts to situations, and more. It reads beautifully from start to finish and it’s been a while since I was so moved while reading a book. There are so many beautifully-written chapters that I’m very tempted to do a video where I read some extracts from the book, so hope I’ll find the time in the not too distant future.
Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is also interspersed with extracts of a Big Issue interview with Naoki and a short story, inspired by his own grandparents who had dementia. The short story is beautifully-written and challenges a number of assumptions about autism, such as the idea that autistic people cannot empathise, recognise the feelings of others or use metaphors.
The overwhelming message I took away from Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is that society needs to see people with autism not as a problem or just as people with a disability, but as people who add colour to life. Even people with the best intentions may not be helping by pigeon-holing autistic people as ‘non-verbal’ or ‘verbal’ or ‘neurotypical’ or ‘neuroatypical’, words which I realise I’ve used in this review, but the most important thing this book asks, in my opinion, is for the rest of us to embrace and encourage autistic people to enjoy their lives and pursue their goals. As a whole, the book is very positive and inspiring, although I found myself on the verge of tears several times whilst reading.
Naoki Higashida has already achieved a remarkable amount in his literary career in his early twenties, something that many budding writers can only dream of. Thanks to David Mitchell’s translation, The Reason I Jump has had a huge impact on many families and Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 takes this further. Naoki and David are also the subjects of a fascinating NHK documentary – What You Taught Me About My Son – which explores the impact The Reason I Jump had on David himself and also many other families worldwide.
I’m calling it now, this is a likely contender for the blog’s annual Book of the Year award. Fall Down 7 Times Get Up 8 is out now and will probably be the most inspiring book you’ll read this year.