Born On a Blue Day: Inside the Extraordinary Mind of an Autistic Savant by Daniel Tammet.
Simon and Schuster, New York, 2006. Originally published in Great Britain.
Adult memoir, 226 pages.
New York Times bestseller.
Lexile: 1170L .
AR Level: 7.9 (worth 13.0 points) .
Daniel Tammet is an unusual and extraordinary individual. He is a savant, has multiple forms of synesthesia, is autistic, and can speak ten languages, one of which (Icelandic) he learned in a week.
There is a certain quality to many (but not all) #ownvoices autism books that I noticed years ago when I was reading a lot of autism memoirs. I find the difference hard to articulate. One aspect is a certain importance that is given to special interests, which is visible in the phrasing and arrangement of sentences even if a well-meaning editor has trimmed it back. But there are other subtle elements that I can’t quite pin down which I think have to do with the specificity of descriptions, the unusual narrative structures of the stories, and the sometimes abrupt digressions or change of topic.
This book has them all, and in the first chapter these potential pitfalls are quite evident. If you can read the first chapter without annoyance, you will likely enjoy this book.
If you’ve ever had an interest in neurological differences, Tammet has it all. He is autistic, with synesthesia affecting multiple senses, he is a savant, and he struggled with epilepsy as a child. He comes from a large family with one other brother who is also autistic. He explains all of these differences in an easy to understand way that is tied to his own concrete experiences.
One potential drawback to this book is that he talks a lot about his special interests. For most of the book he discusses various math concepts and explains how he personally solves certain problems with his idiosyncratic brain. About halfway through when he develops his interest in linguistics, that becomes a major part of the book. I found these digressions informative and and felt free to skip them on rereading if I was not able to concentrate. They don’t go on for more than three pages, and it’s pretty clear from the text when they end (numerals are no longer present in the writing). Some readers may find this irritating, especially if they aren’t prepared for these digressions or don’t know how long they might last.
A very moving part of this book for me was when Tammet left England for the first time. This was such a big and important step, yet when you reread the text you can see all the little moments when his parents and family pushed or nudged him to learn all the little things that made him able to cope in a strange new environment all alone. The other element of this that I found incredibly moving, especially rereading it now as a parent myself, is the love and support his family constantly gave him, even when he was so unusual and at times made their lives quite difficult. The family connections and love he had were crucial to his later success.
“People with Asperger’s syndrome do want to make friends but find it very difficult to do so. The keen sense of isolation was something I felt very deeply and was very painful for me.” page 78
While this is a book for adults, it would certainly be appropriate for teen readers, and possibly even for younger children who had a particular interest. There is some discussion of a family member’s mental illness, but that was the only part of the book I would debate when deciding if this was right for a young person. Even when Tammet is exploring his sexuality it’s discussed in a very innocent way – a crush that doesn’t work out, joining a group, and online dating leading to a great match and a long-term relationship.
I would certainly recommend this book and found it a quick and mostly easy read, with fascinating insights into a brain, and life, very different from mine.