Review: With the Light

With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, vol. 1
By Keiko Tobe
Rated All Ages
Yen Press, $14.99

Japan may have manga for every topic, as we are so often told, but the range of titles translated into English is still pretty narrow. So I was very curious about Yen Press’s debut volume, With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child, a fictional story with a real-life message. Mainly, I wondered if it would be well-intentioned but awful, the way educational comics usually are over here.

Fortunately, that is not the case. With the Light is an entertaining soap opera that doesn’t preach or talk down to the reader. The dialogue does include lots of information about autism, but the story keeps moving with plenty of drama, so it never seems dry.

Unfortunately, our introduction to the family is a bit over the top. Sachiko is the saintly mother, struggling to care for her child, Hikaru, who is behaving strangely: he doesn’t like to be held, he doesn’t return her affection, and he cries. A lot. Sachiko’s husband, Masato, is a cold-hearted jerk who complains that the baby’s crying is interfering with his sleep. Sachiko’s perfectionist mother-in-law piles on the scorn, blaming Hikaru’s weird behavior on Sachiko’s poor discipline and reliance on convenience foods and disposable diapers.

Sachiko is concerned about her child, but she initially resists the idea that he has an incurable disorder Still, Hikaru is clearly not like the other kids in his play group. When his tantrums disrupt a family event Sachiko finally takes him to the unfortunately named “Social Welfare Center,” where kind-hearted counselors offer help and reassurance. Sachiko sees other parents with autistic children and realizes she is not alone; her idea of “normal” begins to shift almost immediately. Eventually her husband and mother-in-law come to accept the situation as well in a pair of sudden conversions that don’t quite ring true; it’s hard to believe anyone could become so perfectly patient and understanding overnight.

Tobe does better when she is depicting the social politics that swirl around any school or day care. The mothers who push their children too hard, who are jealous of others, or who simply are mean because they can’t handle a child who is “different”—they all make their appearances, and there’s plenty of entertaining gossip and cattiness to keep the story moving.

As Hikaru progresses through preschool to elementary school, the story depicts many attitudes to disability, from teachers and principals who don’t want to deal with it at all to those who embrace it as a challenge. Somehow, Sachiko always manages to find caring, cheerful teachers and administrators who embrace Hikaru and his differences with enthusiasm. This aspect is obviously idealized, but the reactions of the other parents and children are not. And Tobe stresses an important point: Often a small accommodation can make a big difference, and many of changes that teachers make for Hikaru benefit the other students as well.

I do wish the book depicted more of Hikaru’s inner life. In a few places, the story shifts to Hikaru’s point of view, and that goes a long way toward explaining how he behaves. I know that this is difficult, because autism is poorly understood, but it almost seems like Hikaru is off in the corner for most of the book. The story is really more about Sachiko learning to cope with him than Hikaru himself.

Despite its didactic qualities, this book works well as entertainment, and I really got wrapped up in the story. While Sachiko’s trials are exaggerated, they have a universal quality: She looks at her child and wonders if his problems are all her fault; she feels relief when she meets other mothers who face the same struggles. You don’t have to be the mother of a child with a disability to relate to that.

Tobe also uses the conventions of manga very well. Interestingly, the two characters drawn in classic big-eyed manga style are Sachiko and Hikaru, but the effects are very different: Sachiko is usually trembling with emotion, while Hikaru is usually looking off to the side or staring into space. Most of the adults are drawn with smaller eyes and animated features that express their different personalities well. Tobe also composes the pages well, shifting points of view, varying her panel style, and moving the eye along with plenty of visual cues. And interestingly, although this omnibus volumes spans 500 pages, she retains a remarkable consistency of story. Characters from an early chapter recur later on, and even simple elements like a ticking clock that show up early in the volume turn out to have significance in later chapters.

By the end of the book, which includes two essays about autistic children, I felt like I knew a lot more about autism. I also was hungry for more. With the Light manages to be informative without being preachy, and if the story isn’t always realistic, it definitely kept me reading. This book is very different from anything on the market right now, and I certainly hope it finds its audience. It deserves to.

(This review is based on a complimentary copy supplied by the publisher.)

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  1. Well this should be an interesting read. My 8 yr. old brother has autsim, so it’s interesting when I see it crop up in popular entertainment (or horrifying depending on how they depict it…).

    It seems like my main gripe with this book is going to be over the fact that father accepted it so readily and the fact that teachers and school officials are so accommodating. To put it nicely, I find it total, uh, horse-manure.

    When my brother was diagnosed, my mom pretty much shut-down for a few months. My father also regarded the diagnosis as nothing more than a load of crap, and to this day he and his parents refuse to accept the fact that my brother is autistic. I know this scenario crops up in the vast majority of families with autistic children, and sadly, many end in divorce (one of the reasons my parents split as well).

    My mom has also had to fight the school board tooth and nail to get my brother to where he is. At his old elementary school his b— of a principal out and out admitted that she despised the Special Education program because she didn’t feel like dealing with *those* kids. Also, a lot of the existing S.E. programs aren’t able to handle autistic children as it’s only recently become a common place disorder. My brother has been “mainstreamed” (ie put in a regular classroom) as he is extremely high-functioning, but even so his teacher thought he was “emotionally disturbed” because the administration didn’t bother handing the guy an IEP and letting him know he was teaching an autistic student.

    Outside of school it’s even worse. My mom tried signing him up for some activities he wanted to do and they wouldn’t even entertain the idea. My mom’s also gotten plenty of “parenting advice” from other people whenever he has any public outbursts.

    Sorry for rambling—I just get fired up about this. I need to read the book before I make a fair and proper judgment however.

  2. Welcome, Ashley! I think this book depicts some fairly realistic struggles, both within and outside the family. Schools refuse to deal with it, a doctor yells at Sachiko because Hikaru won’t stop crying, and some of her friends are really mean. Hikaru’s condition strains her marriage as well. What is less realistic, and this is the limitation of fiction, is that they are eventually resolved and everyone moves on with no hard feelings. I think the book serves as a useful model, though, of how things could be if everyone got their IEPs and worked together. If you do read it, please let me know what you think!

  3. I’m looking forward to reading this, too. Thanks for your review.

    I must ask… what’s an IEP? :)

  4. I think the suddenness of the conversions is more of a result of time compression in the early chapters, though there is something of the epiphany to both. Tobe’s major storytelling interest seems to be more with the presentation of a functional family coping with autism, but that couldn’t begin until the family itself had gone through internal conflict — denial, frustration, estrangement, and so on. And it’s not an ideal presentation, as Brigid notes — it’s definitely over the top, partly because of the melodrama and, again, partly because of the time compression.

    Things that take years of “real time” are presented in a small fraction of the volume’s page count, which can make them seem rushed and too easily resolved. It’s rather like Tobe was too responsible not to present the familial conflict and tension, but less interested in that aspect of the experience than more uplifting elements — finding help and support, educating people with no knowledge of autism, and ensuring that there are opportunities for Hikaru.

  5. Ali Kokmen says

    Being employed by a different manga publisher as I am, I don’t know that my opinion is more or less credible than anyone else’s, but for what it’s worth, I also read WITH THE LIGHT and found it an incredible, powerful, thought-provoking work.

    I will agree with some of the above observations that the story does compress time as it presents its events, but that doesn’t bother me so much. WITH THE LIGHT might not be strictly *realistic* in its storytelling, but it is sufficiently *verisimilitudinous*, and that’s a quality to be expected in any kind of storytelling. Even with the choices made to the timeline, I do think WITH THE LIGHT handles the responsibility of balancing realism (however one choses to define that loaded term…) with effective storytelling fairly well.

    My one main quibble with the book is that, if I recall correctly, from time to time in the book (both the manga and the afterword) there are references to autism statistics and resources. I do remember at some points wondering if the things being cited were out-of-date, or relevant only to Japan, or otherwise suspect. But since the book is a story first and not a resource guide, that’s a lesser concern.

    To answer jun’s question above, unless I’m mistaken, an “IEP” is an “Individualized Education Program,” a specifically-tailored plan to meet the educational needs of a U.S. public school student who is determined to require special education. Other parents or educators can probably better describe the process than I can.

    Anyway, back to WITH THE LIGHT. Unaccustomed as I am to hyperbole, I will say this. If you read WITH THE LIGHT and do not find the story moving and thought-provoking in the slightest, then you have no soul. I have no idea how the book will do for Yen Press, but if there’s any justice in the universe, it’ll be embraced by readers for years to come.

    —Ali Kokmen
    Del Rey Manga

  6. Jeff Peterson says

    I have recently picked up this book at Barnes and Noble, surprised at the thought of a manga about autism. My 6-year-old son is autistic and was exactly like Hikaru in infancy story. He cried a lot, usually though the night. My wife and I worked together to take care of him when he woke. Unfortunately, it was taking it’s toll on me and I got angry with him and shook him, just like Sachiko actions. Appalled at myself, I got the counseling and coping strategies I needed to become a better father and caregiver for my son.

    Anyway, I can relate a lot to the story of the Azuma family. Even though I haven’t finished the book completely yet, I have enjoyed this dramatic story thus far. As far as the facts are concerned, they do seem somewhat dated (it originally came out in 2001) but it could be the data related to Japan only. I’ve heard recent numbers are around 1:150 children are being diagnosed in the autism spectrum in America now! This is one great way to spread the word of this disorder and hopefully we’ll see more translations of the other volumes.

  7. Hello~

    Thank you for liking the book.
    I had a great time working on it…but most of the credits should go to the letterer and my editor Tania.

    Regarding the statistics on autism.
    If you look at the translation notes, there a note about the statistics being out-of-date because the book was originally published in 2000 in Japan.

    I hope more people pick up this book!

  8. I read the entire story at Borders. I started reading the first several pages and when I looked up, several hours had passed! I bought the book because I had to have the story!
    I initially heard about the book from a friend of mine who works there. She has an autistic child herself I have a better understanding of she is going through. What is sad is she doesn’t have the same support structure as Sachiko. This is a bittersweet read for someone living this story.
    The story has inspired me as a teacher. I have always pushed myself to be a better teacher and this story has strengthened my resolve. This is a wonderful gift from Sensei Keiko Tobe.

  9. Jailbait EB says

    I was walking through the manga section at my local Borders and spotted this book on the shelf. I thought “What is a self-help book doing in the manga section?” Upon further inspection, I realized it WAS in fact, a manga, and my curiosity got the best of me.

    Once I started reading it, I could not put it down. With The Light moved me
    to tears several times.

    I think it is worthwhile to mention that I am a high school junior and have never met an autistic person before. A classmate in 3rd grade had an autistic brother, but I never met him personally, so I really had no point of reference. But this manga inspired me to research autism a little more on my own and I am now thinking of pursuing a career in special education and/or alternative learning.

  10. I found this manga at the bookstore and had to buy it – a manga about autism! I was very impressed with it. As was noted above the story does seem rushed and overly dramatic (going into labor with the new baby during a typhoon ;)

    But on the whole I must say Wow. What an excellent story. Excellent art. I am the mother of an autistic child and I really saw myself in Sachiko. As poster Jeff said above I identified with her anger and utter frustration and her story moved me to tears.

    I absolutely love Sachiko’s positive outlook and how she continues to fight for her son.

    I love how she emphasized that she loves Hikaru for who he is, not for the child he never was. It’s so important to accept our autistic children as they come to us!

    I especially liked seeing the ways they helped Hikaru, it’s very interesting to me to get a glimpse into how another culture helps its autistic citizens!

    And I also liked the brief glimpses into life through Hikaru’s eyes (and ears) and the frequent notes about how sense and processes for autistic individuals are different.


  11. I have a 20 year old brother that is autistic and I am a huge manga fan so I felt that I had to buy it. Plus, I used to work as an English teacher in Japan and I spent some of my free time working with the special needs students at that school.

    A lot of reviews are critical that some of the characters are too one dimensional. They are either supportive, or judgmental. But the reviewers forget why the characters are that way and there is a background to why the characters act that way.

    If you’re looking for something with story and character development, I’m not sure if this manga is for you consider people are gloomy one page, and happy and understanding the next sometimes. I believe this manga was about to inform and educate people on the disorder. I say this manga should be a must read for teachers or anyone associated or related to individuals with autism. It’s very insightful and educational.

    It was made into a series in 2004 and trying to find copies of it right now. And Hikaru being trapped in the sports equipment locker was loosely based on a true incident that happened around 2001 where two autistic students were trapped and they nearly died of heat stroke in the middle of the summer. So a lot of incidents and instances you see in this manga are based on true experiences.

    To Ashley: “It seems like my main gripe with this book is going to be over the fact that father accepted it so readily and the fact that teachers and school officials are so accommodating. To put it nicely, I find it total, uh, horse-manure.”

    Well, the father at first was very deniable. It’s just that Sachiko left her husband for awhile and almost got a divorce. It’s just the fact that his own health problems made him reflect on what kind of person he became and his mother found a book on it and decided to educate herself. This goes along with my rebuttals of why critics think the characters are too one-dimensional.

    Then again, many families react to the disorders in similar ways, but how people deal with it in the long run is what makes the difference.

    As for the schools being accommodating. During the time this manga began its initial publication, schools in Japan were starting to have these programs America has for its special needs students to help mainstream them. A lot of schools in Japan unfortunately still don’t offer them and many special needs individuals are secluded and don’t ever get any formal education.

    “I know this scenario crops up in the vast majority of families with autistic children, and sadly, many end in divorce (one of the reasons my parents split as well).”

    Granted that is true, but a huge percentage of marriages in general in today’s society end in divorce.

  12. Manjari Lila says

    this graphic novel was a page turner with heart! very educating and honest. a nice refresher of an experience i had working one on one with a wonderful autistic boy who was a beautiful artist. glad this book found me ;)

  13. aspieotaku says

    i have high functioning autism. my reading material consists mostly of manga and autism books, so i was thrilled when i saw this. i picked it up and couldn’t stop reading. autism was depicted relisticly (which is really hard to find in media.) the problems did seem to be solved rather quickly; this stuff ussually takes years. but the purpose of this book isn’t to tell a good story (at least not primarily), but to educate the reader about the stuggles that autistic children and their familys face. it would be nice if was from hikarus point of view more. of course, it would be difficult to represent, but i think if tobe sensei drew everything hikaru saw with her off hand, it would create a suitable effect. dealing with disabled kids bring out the best and the worst in people. i honestly havent been paying that much attentiion to the secondary characters, because sachiko and hikarus story is so engrossing.

  14. Tricia White says

    I love this Book!!! I have High functioning autism so reading a story like that is very inspiring.

  15. I have 2 autistic sons who are remarkable. A friend of mine introduced me to this amazing series, and am in love with it. Because of this series, I am in better understanding of this condition, and would highly recommend this series to anyone who has either experienced or not with someone with Autism! Bravo Keiko Tobe!!!!!

  16. I love this series. I just got done reading volume three. It’s so sweet!

  17. Paeds M.B.Ch,B says

    I shall praise the author for creating a very interesting, informative and realistic story about autism and how it affects the patient, family and most importantly, the society.

    Honestly to say, i’m also one of those “special” people. I only learned about autism few months ago during paediatric posting, and after comparing characeristics of autistic children with mine, without a doubt i’ve to admit that i’m also autistic……….

    We autistic children aren’t able to express our feelings and thoughts normally like others.Our communication skills are also poor( using inappropiate words, poor/no eye contact) .Because of that, me and others are usually labelled as weirdo, freaks, robotic etc. Though we fell angry, we aren’t able to express it like others would.

    We autistic children usually live within our “imaginary” world; we prefer not to mix with other child or people. We tend to be a loner, and have no interest on any social activities (playing, party etc). Though we want and try to make friends, the friendship won’t lasts for a long time. It is not that we are reluctant, hesitant, shy or refuse to make friends and having normal social activities; we just don’t know why we act like that….

    We autistic child are usually unskilled in sports; this will further worsen our ability to make friends, thus pushing us far into our “imaginary” world. However most of us have talent in arts like drawing (myself), acting etc.

    We autistic child are poor in understanding social norms and rules; in other words we are slow to “catch” things like satires, tricks, predictions etc. That’s why people like us are frequently scolded by parents and teachers, and unfortunately become easy targets of school/ college bullies.

    We autistic child are “rigid” and prefer routines in our daily lives. We aren’t able to cope with sudden changes in our “routine”; because of this, a boss of the company I used to work proir to entering medical school told me to quit for being “clumsy” and too rigid. We like to repeat things like listening to same mp3 multiple times, playing same games etc. Just imagine how dull and boring we are to others hehe……

    To normal people or parents of autistic children/ siblings/ friends,I beg all of you; please try to make friends with them, understand them, and love them. They really need support from their family, relatives, friends and most importantly, the society. I am blessed with very loving family and few good friends despite they always calling me “wierd”( whatever).

    Please, autistic children aren’t a burden. They’re a blessing from the god; a group of people with hidden talent and pontential, and if well treated and raised will become an invaluable asset to their family, society and also the country.

    To Mrs Keiko Tobe, thank you so much.

  18. find the arguments that not realistic interesting. I’m not sure the reviewers realize that the author has an autistic child, and a lot of this is based in reality.

  19. TokyoDreamer9 says

    @Brigid The part in With the Light when Sachiko moves on with her husband and they carry on with their problems is realistic. I found ‘With the Light’ very realistic, anything is possible with families and problems. And we also have to remember that the story is set in Japan, so it might not be realistic to you because of the culture. @Ashley This book is fiction and its not horse manure, dont judge a book before reading it, this book tackles the heartless misunderstanding of autism. In the book, Sachiko comes across parents who have children with more severe autism, Autism varies between individuals, there is a spectrum. I felt like this blog was bashing the book rather than actually praising it. Also speaking the author of the book series passed away this year so the series remains unfinished sadly.

  20. Carol :3 says

    This book. I was at borders and saw this (attracted to it at sight) i had heard the word “autism” before but didnt know a thing about it so i started reading it and instantly Keiko got my hooked, my dad bought me the first volume and i finished it the moment i got home and soon i had all Borders offered for it, i personally love the story and its opened up a new aspect to me and made me think with more of an open mind. I know the story is realistic but it does sugar coat it, as people pointed out any disability can lead to marital problems aka divorce and etc but nontheless this was a great read Hikaru was the most adorable thing and he made me laugh.
    I was surprised to find friend after friend wanting to borrow my books and i feel its a very good thing that just one manga series opened up a different way of life to so many people, i mean if my friends were interested someone elses friends might be, and the more people understand autism the closer we’ll be to accomadating for the autistic and their different lifestyle, i reccomend this book to anyone, even if you have no interest in disabilities or birth defects, it teaches you something in an enjoyable manner.
    Well im going to stop rambling


  1. Autism Vox says:

    […] by Keiko Tobe about a mother, Sachiko, and her efforts to take care of her autistic son, Hikaru. MangaBlog notes that, while With the Light attempts to convey a definite educational message, it is also […]

  2. […] Brigid Alverson on Keiko Tobe’s With the Light: Raising an Autistic Child Vol. […]

  3. […] story of raising a child with autism. Some reviewers have called parts too melodramatic, others have said it is engaging. It just seems interesting to see autism — which has been getting a lot more attention lately […]

  4. […] out more about the series at the publisher’s website, or read another review. Similar Posts: Hikaru no Go Update § Hikaru no Go Book 10 Reviewed § Diamond Bonanza […]