Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover Book Cover

John Elder Robison – Raising Cubby

Book Cover

Inaccessibility has never been so accessible.

Publisher: Crown (Random House)
Pages: 354
Type: Non-Fiction
Age: Adult
ISBN: 978-0-307-88484-8
First Published: 15th January 2013
Date Reviewed: 10th April 2013
Rating: 5/5

Robison recounts his time as a parent with Asperger’s, bringing up a child from birth to the teenage years. Involving stories of entrepreneurship, life when society doesn’t always understand you, and court cases when people make mountains out of molehills, Robison’s book is about himself as much as it is his son’s progression and the possibility that Cubby (Jack) might have Asperger’s, too.

Raising Cubby is a wonderful book that is successful as much for what it doesn’t say than for what it does. Robison takes the approach of organising his book by topic rather than by life stage, meaning that you read a lot more about Jack than you might have if the story had been completely linear. And whilst Robison has much to impart about Autism, he does it in a way that invites the reader into the fold. The book seems fresh, and it is, because you have the first-hand experience rather than an account by someone who knows someone with a condition, as is so often the case.

Robison balances serious statements with a lot of easy humour. His book is in the vein of that new phrase, ‘literary non-fiction’, where the story flows as well as any novel. It is an account, but it feels as though he is talking directly to you at times, and his humour invites a certain intimacy – you will finish this book feeling as though you’ve known the people in it for years.

This leads us onto the next point, because this affability and invitation seems at odds with what Robison describes of himself and of Autism in general. Taken at face value, as he says, those on the autistic spectrum can seem rude and anti-social. So the accessibility of his book knocks that notion out of the water. Which is brilliant, really, as it further backs up the truth of the matter, which, as Robison says, is that those on the spectrum wish to have friends, but happen to be oblivious to the way they come across to others.

The last point in the previous paragraph does not in turn relate to the writing in the book, however. Robison speaks naturally and has a good command of language, you would expect an English degree to be amongst his accolades. This in itself may surprise some readers, and by itself makes the book stand out as one that would be an invaluable source to schools and any organisations that struggle to understand those on the spectrum. But in addition, Robison writes honestly, he never censors himself – in other words he includes decisions he’s made that might sound strange to many, without any hint of apology or explanation. He clarifies the first few times, so that you will be able to tell where his Asperger’s has played a part in decisions, but otherwise there is nothing. Therefore when things sound odd there are no excuses – this is Robison, this is an example of Asperger’s, and as a reader you just get used to it. Robison explains the logic to some decisions so that you come to understand his mindset, but the overall approach means that not only will the uninformed reader come away knowing a lot more about Autism than they would any book by unaffected ‘experts’ but readers with autism will likely be able to relate to it, too, especially since there is no time for patronisation or misplaced sympathy. Raising Cubby is very much a book for anyone.

Due to the inclination for obsessive interests, readers who love the following topics will find in this book fodder for them: the upkeep and alteration of musical instruments, repairing and refurbishing cars, building homes, and chemistry. There is enough information about trading card games to appeal to those who may have had trouble leaving them behind with childhood. It’s not that the book is lengthy with masses of information, it’s the way that information is incorporated throughout. Robison is a geek, and the reader can rest assured that they can join him without any of the eye-rolling or sighs that often accompany responses when an attempt is made to discuss a beloved subject in person.

…the Commonwealth of Massachusetts had also charged him with one count of “possessing explosives with the intent to harm people or property”. I guess that was their backstop – if they couldn’t prove he harmed people or destroyed property, they wanted to prove he meant to.

The book is striking for many reasons, but one reason is far removed from the others. As Cubby, a child genius with no understanding for how others would view him, experimented with chemistry, the law inevitably arrived at the door. This episode gives Robison the opportunity to call into question the vast chasm that is rules made for the typical person coming up against people for whom they cannot work. Robison shows how naivety and disability are exploited for gain by others, and how the rules need to be changed. The account of Cubby’s trial inevitably calls to mind the case of Gary Mackinnon, a British man with Autism who hacked into the Pentagon computers to find evidence of aliens. Robison’s account may not refer to it, but the two events run neatly in line. Things are not black and white, especially when disability is involved.

Robison may have an epilogue that hopes for changes in the court system, further progression for acceptance, and education in society of those who do not match the expectations of society, but the strength of his book surely lies most in the overall approach and content. Raising Cubby is a brilliant book for general reading, but there is no doubt that the best future for it would be in the consumption by those who deal with people on the spectrum on a constant basis and who as yet lack the information necessary to both help their charges excel, and excel as teachers themselves.

I received this book for review from Crown Publishers.

Related Books

None yet



April 19, 2013, 3:13 am

I’ve been curious about this book and I’m glad to see your review. This subject interests me as I have a family member on the spectrum. It’s more and more common and I think this book would be interesting to many people. Thanks for the great review!


April 19, 2013, 5:40 am

Love your review– I’ll have to keep an eye peeled for this one. My dad has Aspergers (or ASD, as I guess it it now) and we’re always on the lookout for the next good read on the subject.


April 19, 2013, 7:31 am

Sounds really great!
Last week I finished House Rules, a book also about a 18-year-old boy with Asperger, and I found it really interesting. There are chapters from his point of view and he also explains how his brain works, and that was one of the best part of the book (I will review it next week).

Robinson’s book, from an adult perspective, seems even more interesting! I find it strange, because I have to say I don’t know anything about autism, but in the other book the boy said he couldn’t think about having an intimate relationship since he couldn’t let people touch him (among his other problems in communication with other people).


April 19, 2013, 12:28 pm

Great review Charlie. I’ve heard of this book but didn’t have a clue what it was about until I read your thoughts. It sounds like a wonderful read, one I would love to try.

Audra (Unabridged Chick)

April 20, 2013, 2:24 pm

Sounds rather interesting — I rarely read this kind of book but might pick it up — what you shared intrigues me!

Laurie C

April 22, 2013, 11:09 am

I’ve seen this book mentioned but yours is the first full review that I’ve read. It sounds really good!


April 25, 2013, 11:17 am

Jennifer: Then you’ll likely appreciate it quite a bit :) It does seem to be more common, but then I suppose as we’re only still in the early days of acknowledging conditions, disabilities, what not, that’s going to be the case. You’re welcome!

Beck: I’d say you’d both like this, the way it’s written, and of course the author – there’s just that lack of any discomfort you find in books by ‘experts’. It’s really good.

Isi: I’ll have to look for House Rules, it’s always interesting to see how authors work things into fiction. I’d say House Rules probably gave you enough to start with for Raising Cubby, but I reckon this is a really good first book for people who don’t know much/anything. Better than reading medical reports and opinions, and whilst obviously Robison has quirks, so to speak, you learn about Autism in a more comfort, natural, setting.

Jessica: I think you’d like it, Jessica, especially given what you included in your latest post :)

Audra: Yes, it’s often difficult to ascertain what angle, etc, such books take, but yes, this one is brilliant.

Laurie: It is! :)



Comments closed