Book Review: Reasons to Smile

What a really neat little book Reasons to Smile is! It reminds me a bit of Gifts in that the stories about people with Down syndrome are inspirational. But it differs from Gifts in a few significant ways.

First, the aesthetics. This little book is gorgeously laid out. Each two-page spread features the story on the left page and a full-color image of the person on the right page, with an inspirational quote below the picture. As someone who likes to put faces to names, I really appreciated the pictures.

Which leads me to my second point: diversity. The pictures allowed me to see the diversity in this book! Diversity is something that is sometimes lacking in material about Down syndrome. We see wonderful pictures of adorable babies and fabulous kids and adults, but they are almost always Caucasian, which indicates a serious underrepresentation of minorities with Down syndrome. Down syndrome occurs pretty much equally across all races, so we really should see the faces of people from all races and backgrounds. And while there are a lot of Caucasians represented in Reasons to Smile, there are also many people from different ethnic backgrounds. And from different regions of the world, too! It’s good to see.

And third, there is diversity in the storytellers here. Many are told by parents (which is pretty common in the Down syndrome community), but there are also stories told by siblings, other relatives, and best of all, people with Down syndrome themselves. There is a very real hole in the presentation of material told from the mouths of people with Down syndrome—most often, we hear from someone representing the person, rather than from the person himself. So I was delighted to see a few stories in the book told explicitly by the person with Down syndrome.

Another thing I appreciated was that the stories really stayed focused on the person with Down syndrome. Too often, stories venture into the feel-good territory where the story becomes about the person interacting with someone with Down syndrome—for example, the story becomes about the altruistic high-schooler who invited the girl with Down syndrome to the prom. While it’s nice that the girl was invited, it’s frustrating when the story becomes a sort of “hero tale” about the boy who invited her. It’s different and exciting when a story really stays true to being about the person with Down syndrome, which most of the stories in Reasons to Smile do. I was pleased to see that.

I’m not sure I could pick a favorite story from these. I loved the one about Andrea, a Singaporean adult with Down syndrome who also has Type 1 diabetes and manages her blood sugar and insulin care independently. Having a close relative with T1D, I know how complicated and intricate managing it can be, so I was delighted to see that Andrea had mastered it on her own. I also loved the story told by Fionn, a photographer from Ireland who has Down syndrome. He tells of a time when a TV talk show host asked him how it felt to have Down syndrome, and he replied to the man, “How does it feel not to have Down syndrome?” Ha! I think I’d like to hang out with Fionn—he sounds like a fun guy.

If you have someone you love with Down syndrome, read this book. I guarantee it’ll give you a reason to smile!

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