Book review: Buzz: A Year of Paying Attention by Katherine Ellison

Standard I have mixed feelings about this book. On the one hand, I am currently investigating the possibility that my son might have ADHD, and I am newly diagnosed with the condition myself, so I have a lot of identification with this situation. Many things that Ellison describes in this book seemed right on target. I recognized many situations, which was validating. Also, she has some very good suggestions and does a fairly thorough review of the treatment philosphies and options out there for this condition.

On the other hand, she seems a bit overly antagonistic toward her son at times. I understand that there are two things going on here, probably: her need to make people understand that this really is outside the normal high-spiritedness of kids, and does deserve a diagnosis and support (because there is a lot of bias toward this diagnosis, and a widespread belief that the condition doesn’t really exist), and the fact that she is focusing on the difficult behaviors because that is what the book is about. However, it seems she could have done that in the context of a more well-rounded view of her son and their relationship. For the first third of the book or so, this kid sounds terrible. She talks so much about how he hurts his brother, I started to wonder why she didn’t consider institutionalizing him. Once she established the severity of the problem, she did seem to back off that a bit and he sounded like a not bad kid who happens to have some difficulties, but geez, it was a bit much. Also, it seemed farily clear that the biggest thing that she did during this year of working on her son’s problem was to stop seeing him as the enemy and start working with him rather than against him, which I found a bit frustrating. Parenting 101: you never win a power struggle with your kids. Never. This has nothing to do with ADHD.

That said, I read the book in less than 2 days after it came in the mail, and I feel that I learned a lot from it. I particularly liked seeing this Pulitzer prize winning journalist struggle with the same day to day tasks that trouble me. It makes me feel better about my potential and the accuracy of my own diagnosis. I appreciated Ellison’s bravery and honesty in detailing both her son’s and her own behaviors that were, at times, (far) less than perfect. All parents have an ideal that they strive toward as a parent, and they all fall short at times. Showing her own failures opens her up to negative feedback that must be difficult to hear. Despite my criticisms above, I could clearly tell from this book that Ellison loves her sons and is a good parent to them. Overall, definitely recommended, despite my annoyances with a few points.


2 responses »

  1. Susan, thanks for your frank and interesting comments. Just for myself, working through the fact that I had, indeed, come to see my son as my nemesis, was an important part of a psychological journey I tried my best to portray honestly. You might be interested to know I belong to a writers' group full of moms whom I relied on to make sure I wasn't being unfair to my son. It's possible we all let some things slip, but we –and of course mainly I — worked to err on the side of honesty, because alas I think this dynamic is all too common in families. Thanks again for your interest and I'm so glad you (mostly) liked it!

  2. Thank you for reading my review! I don't know why I didn't see your comment sooner. I will say that my criticisms of your descriptions of your son were more for the narrative choices than for the parenting choices–it was clear to me that you love your son and want what is best for him. And, giving your son a pseudonym makes a difference here too. It is very difficult to walk the line between being honest and not hiding difficult truths and saying things which are harmful or too revealing of someone else when you write a true story like this, especially about a minor. But I really do appreciate seeing a book about a real parent/child relationship–one with faults and not so proud moments to go along with everything that is good.

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