I was given an electronic review copy of this book many months ago. Unfortunately, due to some personal problems and lack of time-management or a concrete deadline, I have been remiss in not posting this review until now. Apologies to the Author and Publisher.
I was such a fan of Kindling that I was automatically interested in reading Are You Seeing Me? I was not disappointed. Groth has created a story with heart. Family is the main focus, but in particular, forgiveness.
Justine and Perry are twins. Unknown to Justine, their father has made previous arrangements for Perry, who has a disability, to move into assisted living when he reaches adulthood. Unfortunately their father dies just before the twins 18th birthday, leaving Justine to follow through on his plans, which she is reluctant to do. She takes Perry to America for a holiday when they are 19, with the secondary motive of having him ’meet’ their mother - who left when they were four years old. Justine doesn’t want Perry to move into 'Fair Go' and is trying to arrange an alternative future for him. Perry wants wants Justine to have a 'normal' life. He wants her to be happy. He thinks the only way she can be free, and live the full life he wants her to have, is for him to leave. He is especially trying to 'cope' with things that might happen on their trip because he is worried that Justine will use any problems he might have as an excuse to keep him with her.
The author's use of the twin's father’s letters and journal add an extra layer to this dual narrator story. This pertinent back story flows naturally into the fabric of the linear story without interrupting the narrative. The theme of independence is a big one. This is something most parents want for their children, something that sometimes seems impossible for children with disabilities. The truth is, though, that no one is ever truly independent. When faced with difficulty, we all need someone’s support, regardless of how capable we are to function in the world as independent adults. Regardless of our ability or inability to care for ourselves, regardless of diagnosis.
Perry has two special interests; earthquakes and mythological sea creatures. During their trip he predicts an earthquake and his prediction comes true. Justine is hurt during the earthquake. She isn’t breathing. Perry, rather than melting down in this high stress situation and failing to function, revives Justine using CPR and gets the help of a stranger to get her to the hospital. These are things he would normally have problems with, things Justine would never expect him to be able to deal with on his own, but he does. He even calls his Mum to let her know what has happened. He had earlier found out about Justine's plans and the Skype calls she has been having with their mother. Not surprisingly, Perry is able to recognise the feelings of overwhelm that his mother experienced when they were young, feelings that so 'disabled' her that she chose to leave her children.
Perry has far more self-awareness and empathy than those around him can understand. Though Justine says, on multiple occasions throughout the book, that he is capable, I’m unconvinced in her belief. She seems unaware of just how capable he can be until he is put to the test. Perry can be calculated and selfless, he can imagine lives and scenarios in the future and how they will differ without him being there, being a problem - his sister and her boyfriend for instance. If I was to criticise the book at all, it would be the spiel that Justine uses to explain her brother’s behaviour to strangers. I don’t particularly like the rote nature of it or how often and how quickly she jumps into it. Perhaps the writer wants the reader to be annoyed with her. I certainly was.
There is a difference with being independent and being interdependent. I learnt this while studying Disability Work. Independence suggests you do everything for yourself without the need for assistance. Interdependence is the skill of being able to ask for the help you need when you need it. I believe this is far more important. Perry proved he is capable of doing just that. He saved his sister’s life. She has to respect and admire him for that. He is not the ’little’ brother she’s always taken care of anymore, he’s much more than that. He’s a man.