The Boy Who Loved Too Much: A True Story of Pathological Friendliness
by Jennifer Latson (Simon & Schuster, $26)
In a brief encounter, a boy or girl with Williams syndrome “might seem like a parent’s dream,” said Ruth Padawer in The New York Times. Such children, after all, greet even new acquaintances with enthusiastic hugs and evince a boundless joy. But living without emotional boundaries is hard. Journalist Jennifer Latson spent three years following a boy with the rare genetic disorder, watching the sometimes “heartbreaking” effects of his gregariousness, and the strain that they caused his single mother. Latson’s account, though sometimes “more dutiful than necessary,” brims with insights into the role of genes in social behavior and teases out the paradoxes of a disorder that produces an isolating supergenerosity of spirit.
Eli D’Angelo is 12 when we meet him, and beginning to faces the challenges of puberty, said Mike Snyder in the Houston Chronicle. “One of the book’s most powerful scenes,” though, takes us back to his infancy, when his mother, Gayle, realizes that he has Williams and is destined for a difficult future. The syndrome is associated, she learns, with moderate intellectual disability and a number of health problems. But Gayle adapts to her new reality and emerges as a vivid character in her own right—“fiercely protective, stubborn, unconventional, resourceful, and tough.” She’s also “enormously self-sacrificing,” and much of the story becomes about her efforts to usher Eli toward independence while learning to grant herself some of the same.
Williams syndrome bestows gifts as well as challenges, and Latson notices those too, said Eric Liebetrau in The Boston Globe. Eli shows a talent for storytelling that begins to earn him acceptance by other teenagers, and after an eighth-grade classroom discussion of genetics that opens the eyes of his peers, he becomes, in Latson’s words, “an almost universally beloved figure in his class.” The challenges don’t end there, but both Eli and Gayle appear to be on a promising path as The Boy Who Loved Too Much closes, said Clare Wilson in the New Scientist. “I only wish I could find out how their story pans out.”