Rating: 4 out of 5.

As a parent with late-diagnosis autism who only discovered this diagnosis through her own child’s diagnosis I jumped at the chance to read this book. Through my daughter’s diagnosis, and a little bit mine, I’ve also – like this author – come to suspect my mother had an undiagnosed case of autism. Like the author, my mother passed away without receiving a diagnosis. So this book left me with very mixed feelings.

About the Book

★★★★★ “Illuminates the complicated path of a neurodiverse family.” Liane Holliday Willey, author of Pretending to be Normal: Living with Asperger’s Syndrome

Martha Engber lives a charmed life in the suburbs with a husband and two kids where everything is fine, fine, fine until suddenly she’s… completely broken. She’s so used to lying to others and herself that she has no idea who she really is or how she feels about anything. What happened? Why is her life smooth driving one minute and totaled the next?

In this sometimes funny, often devastating memoir, Martha describes the arduous journey toward discovering the invisible roadblock that ran her life off course: her psychological distress is the result of being the neurotypical daughter of a dad with undiagnosed Autism Spectrum Disorder, a condition that affects over 75 million people worldwide.

Martha uses personal anecdotes and research about the emergence of ASD as a diagnosis to explain the psychological, emotional and social challenges she faced as a child, then as an adult and parent. Along the way, she shows the sometimes harrowing, but eminently rewarding, route others can follow to chase down the source of their family angst and so reach a more blissful future.

My Thoughts

As I said, I have some mixed thoughts about this book. I was really excited to read it, because the blurb made it seem like the author and I had similar life experiences. That is true to some degree. We both had parents we suspect were on the autism spectrum, who were perfectly delightful much of the time but had surprising, explosive outbursts over seemingly insignificant things. I can sympathize with her on that. And for a long time, I did have ill-feelings toward my mother, and I do know that she shaped much of the way I am.

I’ll also admit that reading this book did somewhat make me wonder – do I have ASD or was my emotional intelligence just stunted by my mother’s ASD. But autistics, especially those with a late-diagnosis also frequently experience “imposter syndrome” so I’m pretty sure that is what that is.

This was a lovely, emotional, and vulnerable account. I applaud the author on being willing and open to sharing such intimate details of her life with us. It takes great courage and emotional strength to do that. I do agree with her on the account that it might have been better if her potentially autistic parent would have received support in his parenting, but I’d go further and say that all parents would benefit from such training.

I do worry that some of the author’s thoughts about her father’s parenting could hurt the autistic community as a whole. She considers herself neurotypical (though she mentioned several times that she may have ADHD) and I wish she would have consulted someone from the community before publishing. She mentioned reading books, and she has autistic nephews, but she didn’t mention any such consultations. I’m not suggesting censorship, and I believe wholeheartedly in her right to publish her thoughts, especially as her version of events – I just worry as a parent with autism and as the parent of an autistic daughter when anyone suggests such a strong limitation on our abilities. I understand her father’s limitation but not all autistics present with the same symptoms. My daughter is one of the most caring and empathetic people you will ever meet. In fact, one of her “issues” if you will, is that she is almost TOO empathetic, feeling other people’s pain so much that she will have a meltdown when faced with injustice.

This is a memoir, so no one can argue her experience. But the claims that come from one person’s experience should never apply to all. I’m not saying she is trying to suggest that. But people sometimes read something like this and end up taking away such ideas as gospel. So I just felt it necessary to make that clear. Otherwise, I really enjoyed the book and enjoyed this look into a family with similiar, but also very different, circumstances to my own. Her own story of growth and healing was incredibly inspirational, and it can be applied to many different stories of childhood trauma – not just those who had parents with diagnosed or undiagnosed ASD.

I am very grateful to the author and Love Books Tours for including me on this tour. I will definitely explore Engber’s other writing, especially her fiction. I really enjoyed her writing style, and getting to know her better was a delight.

Who’s It For

I think anyone with an interest in autism – especially who suspects their own parents might have or have had ASD – would find this book interesting. Additionally, anyone who experienced any kind of childhood trauma might find this book inspirational and enlightening. However, I do think that it should be made clear that Engber’s father was never officially diagnosed with ASD. Additionally, her experiences are not going to be universal. She had a difficult childhood with her father, experiencing a great deal of trauma, which may or may not be your experience with your own parents. And it is also very important to remember that this is a memoir and not a diagnostic tool or a tool for how we should or should not handle family or community members with autism or other neurodiversities.

Be sure to check out what all the other great hosts on the tour think!

About the Author

Martha Engber’s BLISS ROAD, a memoir about neurodiversity, is now on sale! Martha is the author of WINTER LIGHT, an IPPY Gold Medal Winner for YA, which is now available as an audiobook. Her historical fiction book, THE FALCON, THE WOLF AND THE HUMMINGBIRD, will be published in September 2023. Martha’s other two books include the novel THE WIND THIEF and GROWING GREAT CHARACTERS, a resource for writers. She encourages readers to connect via her website, MarthaEngber.com.