Title: The Way Things Look To Me
Author: Roopa Farooki
Release Date: April 12, 2011
Publisher: St. Martin’s Press
Genre: Literary Fiction, Multicultural Fiction
Rating: 4 out of 5
After Asif’s mother dies, he moves home in order to take care of his sister, Yasmin. Yasmin has Asperger’s Syndrome, and even now at 19, she is unable to take care of herself. Asif is just 24, and he sees his life unfolding before him in a bleak, unending stretch, dominated by Yasmin’s routines and need for order. Meanwhile, Lila, the middle child, acts out, unable to feel comfortable in her own skin. When a documentary filmmaker asks to make a move about Yasmin, it brings forth deeply held resentments and heartfelt anger, but will it also uncover love and hope?
Resentment is part of childhood and growing up. It’s part of being a sibling – you always think the grass is greener on the other side, that your sibling has it better. But what happens when that resentment is bottled inside, when you are responsible for your younger sibling and required to face it every minute of every day? That’s the situation the reader finds Asif in at the beginning of The Way Things Look To Me. He has no hope for his life; he is held captive by Yasmin’ rigidity, by her inability to cope with change. At the same time, though, he doesn’t really blame Yasmin – while frustrating, her difficulty is a result of her condition. No, Asif blames his mother for dying, for leaving him to care for Yasmin, for making him put his life aside for his youngest sister.
Lila, on the other hand, is the complete opposite end of the spectrum. Her resentment for Yasmin threatens to consume her. Growing up, she saw Yasmin stealing her mother’s attention away from her and Asif, so demanding and unrelenting. Yasmin got everything she wanted handed to her, and when Lila would point out the unfairness of this to those around her, they would highlight Yasmin’s Asperger’s. Lila doesn’t care about Yasmin or her condition, and isn’t about to get sucked into Yasmin’s drama and become like Asif.
These two perspectives on Yasmin’s Asperger’s were really fascinating. I’ll admit, though Lila’s attitude was atrocious and made me cringe at times, I also found her honesty refreshing. Lila was crass, yes, but she also made some very good points – it’s difficult to live with someone who is physically or mentally disabled. But I think what I found the most interesting was that it wasn’t Yasmin that Lila hated, but herself. She despised the horrible things that came out of her own mouth, and hated herself once she said them. It takes a lot for Lila to begin to realize that just because her mother paid more attention to Yasmin, didn’t mean she loved Yasmin more. Once Lila begins to understand this, she begins to come to terms with her own issues.
The Way Things Look To Me does have its share of challenges: the plot is murky at times and doesn’t seem to be heading in a clear direction. The “power of love” message is a little overwhelming, and it happens all too easily, especially for Lila. However, these issues didn’t prevent me from enjoying the story that Roopa Farooki had to tell, especially because these characters spoke to me on such a deep level. Additionally, the depiction of Asperger’s is very interesting, as Farooki gets the reader inside Yasmin’s head.
Just as in her previous novel, Half Life, The Way Things Look To Me’s strength lies in its characters. They are each so real, their pain so raw and edges so sharp, that readers will be drawn into each of their stories and will ache for them to find some sort of happiness.