Book Review by Alison Byrne.
Poor Jason Loring! For this 10 year old American boy, life holds some challenges - attending a new school in a new community, living with a directing stepmother, an insensitive stepbrother and a dad with some turn taking issues. In addition to this, he has a stammer which he is having some difficulty accepting.
In this novel aimed at American pre- and young teens, 'Jason's secret' takes the reader on the journey of a young boy who stammers, from his anxiety-ridden, negative outlook on himself to a more accepting, positive one, ready to 'beat this thing'.
The thoughts and feelings experienced by a young person who stammers are dealt with in great detail and there are some poignant images and analogies for those readers mature enough to understand them. For example, the idea that 'flying would be fun, but the take off's and landings might be hard ..... exhausting'.
Images and self-imagery are used throughout the book to emphasise the degree of emotions experienced by the person who stammers. For example, Jason likens himself to a gladiator going to the arena, during a dinner-time conversation with his family!
It is likely that the reader will find plenty to identify with, from the over-talkative friend to the classroom bully, from the negative thought cycles to the reluctance to want to be seen as 'different'.
Although the book encourages the idea of giving speech and language therapy 'another go' for those who found it non-beneficial first time round, therapy was presented in the light of a medical model. Speech and Language Therapist 'Dr Allen' directed the therapy, with a little in the way of negotiation or setting steps with the client. Jason's readiness for therapy was not a consideration and therapy was organised as soon as Jason brought the signed consent slip from his parents.
This was considered to be a less helpful introduction to therapy and what it can offer to children of this age.
The book is divided into 17 chapters, each of manageable length with an introductory illustration. As an American publication, it contains references that British children may find confusing, for example 'recess' (break time), 'high tops' (type of shoes) and 'Al-Ateen' (support for children of parents who abuse alcohol). However, this is not particularly disruptive and it is usually possible to infer the meaning of these terms.
I would recommend this book to 10 - 13 year old children who stammer after they have experienced speech and language therapy, as British and American models differ. I would also recommend this book to peers, in order for them to understand more about the issues involved for a person who stammers.
From the Spring 2003 issue of 'Speaking Out'
Alison Byrne is a Speech and Language Therapist at The Michael Palin Centre.