It is impossible to know what is going on inside of someone else’s head, especially so if that person has some sort of mental disability. Billy lives in Cleveland, Ohio, a community named Buckeye to be exact. It’s during a time when plenty of factories were still running and no one said much about polluting the rivers. Billy comes from a rather large family. He has brothers and sisters who are normal enough, but Billy is not.
Billy is what some people called a Mongoloid. He doesn’t have the same intelligence factor as the other children, but that doesn’t stop him from wanting many of the same things they do. Billy looks at the world and understands parts of it, but things like the concept of death elude him.
Billy grows up and goes to class after class where no one knows how to deal with him. No one knows what’s going on inside of his head. The story inside of Billy’s head is much more worldly than anyone would have ever suspected. Billy knows enough about the world to know that people don’t really care about people like him until something goes wrong, which is ultimately what happens to Billy. People looked at Billy sideways for years, but when something bad finally does happen as a result of him not being able to understand, the entire area is in an uproar and a sad fate ultimately awaits Billy.
What I liked
Daniel, the author, is a new friend and I’m always happy to read new books. This is an interesting take on something that isn’t very concrete in our world. We don’t know what goes on inside another person’s head. We could guess and maybe we would be correct, if we knew that person well and were close in intelligence levels, but we would probably mostly be wrong. People generally don’t think what we think they’re thinking. This entire idea gets even more abstract when we talk of people outside of the normal range of intelligence. Someone who is very smart, like Stephen Hawking, is still going to have normal thoughts, like us, but ultimately, he’s so intelligent that his every-day thoughts are probably light-years ahead of ours.
On the flip-side, we really don’t know what goes on inside of the head of someone who has down syndrome, like Billy, or someone who has a myriad of other mental disabilities. Someone with lesser mental capabilities is still going to have some of the same thoughts we do as people of normal intelligence, but what other thoughts do they have? Do they think in complete sentences? Do they even think in English, or Spanish, or whatever language it may happen to be? We can’t know.
My youngest brother is autistic and in addition to his brain essentially being wired differently because he has autism, he also has scarring on his brain because of some very severe Grand Mal seizures. His thought process has often been very mysterious. At one point, he thought it totally appropriate to wash his hands in the toilet. He was old enough to know better, but the concept of clean water versus dirty water, wasn’t something in his mental vocabulary. I still don’t know what he’s thinking. I know he wants things many of us want, a job, a house, a relationship, but there are still times we wonder, as a family, what in the heck he was thinking when he did something.
Daniel, the author, has a brain injury , which Daniel mentions in the book. Daniel is person telling the story in the book, but also telling the story in real life. I’ve had some personal experience with brain injuries, having an uncle who has been brain injured, and having worked in a nursing home; I am thoroughly amazed that Daniel was able to complete a book like this. Another author I reviewed in the not-too-distant past who is also brain injured is Mira Bartok. With a brain injury sometimes things just don’t work like they used to. Some things may come back and be rewired in the brain, while other things may be lost for good.
What I didn’t like
Billy’s brain isn’t for the faint of heart. Billy’s brain is not a clean place. Billy’s brain is dirty. His brain is a little dirtier than I might imagine the brain of someone who had Down Syndrome to be, I say this from having taken care of a few people who have Down Syndrome, but again, I don’t know what they’re thinking.
We like to think that people with mental disabilities are simple in ways. We like to think some of them are not subject to some of the more base thoughts and desires we have ourselves.
Let me tell you something–I used to work in a nursing home and dealt with all manner of mental disabilities; those people have brains just about as dirty as yours; they might not be as good about containing it as you are though.
Billy’s interior world is a bit of a shock to me, that’s essentially what I’m saying.
I feel sorry for Billy.
Do you think we would be shocked to learn what’s inside other people’s heads?
Do you think others would be shocked to learn what’s inside your head?