I would like to start sharing my book reviews from GoodReads on this blog, so here's the first one:
Our House is on Fire: Scenes of a Family and a Planet in Crisis by Malena Ernman
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
This book is jointly written by Greta Thunberg, her parents Malena and Svante, and her sister Beata. It relates the family's journey that leads towards Greta's historical school strike for climate change in front of the Swedish parliament building in August 2018. I picked it up expecting to read accounts of fights for environmental protection and the climate crisis, but what I discovered was more than that and I was pleasantly surprised.
Written from Malena's point of view, the book describes the family's struggles with being different - not just because they're fighting for a cause that's often looked at with cynicism by most people (especially by First World's privileged upper-class population who have been benefitting so much from environmentally-destructive economy), but also because both Greta and Beata suffer from neurological disorders that make everyday life more challenging compared to most people. Greta has Asperger's, OCD, and eating disorder; while Beata has ADHD, OCD, autism, and misophonia. Malena herself was diagnosed with ADHD in adulthood.
People say autistic people see everything in black and white, they see no shade in between, and they tell a thing as it is. In that sense, and especially when it comes to matters as black and white as the climate crisis, autistic people are a gift to the world. I've been following Greta's work for quite a while and I'm always in awe of her ability to focus on what matters. She never sees the need to respond to hatred, abuse, and vitriol - her dogged determination and relentless assertiveness are enough to shut negative people down.
Despite its simplicity of message and style of writing, I find this book moving and thought-provoking in many ways. First and foremost, of course it makes me think about the environmental crisis, how much damage I've contributed as an individual, and what I should do to help change things for the better. I'm never a climate change denier, but I confess that I'm a lukewarm laggard, and I belong to the group who clings to false hopes in future technologies that haven't yet been invented. Technologies that can purportedly suck all excessive CO2 from the air and solve the problems once and for all. I also belong to the group who thinks switching to 'green products' and driving hybrid cars are enough to mitigate the damage. But of course I'm wrong.
Secondly, the family's story also makes me think more deeply about inclusivity and acceptance. Because of their multiple conditions, the Ernman-Thunberg family always feel like they don't belong anywhere. School is a struggle for both Greta and Beata. Admins and teachers are not always supportive of the children's needs for differentiation - which comes as a surprise to me honestly. I naively thought countries as progressive as Sweden would fare better in matters like inclusion, but apparently I'm wrong. I'm also very unimpressed with the school's manner of handling Greta's bullying by her peers. This part of the book, I guess, is what touches me the most. I mean, the environment message is important and it does spur a repentant mode in me. However, the experience of being an outsider is one that always resonates the most because I, too, grew up thinking I don't belong anywhere. I, too, was a victim of bullying - simply because I'm different. Now that I'm a teacher myself, I feel more strongly than ever that children should be allowed to work alone if they want to (as opposed to forcing them to work in groups even if they're uncomfortable), and to encourage them to speak up only when they're ready (as opposed to awarding points for 'participating' - this is forcing students to speak even if they're not ready, and is seriously damaging for those who have issues speaking in public. I failed a paper for one particular semester just because I chose to remain silent during group discussions).
All in all, we need to stop being judgemental towards kids who seem socially awkward (these kids don't do it on purpose. Believe me, I know). The best thing we can do is to let students learn at their own paces and in ways that are most convenient for them. Greta has selective mutism, but would you be able to guess that judging on how eloquently she delivers her speeches? The best thing we can do for some children is to just let them be.
Last but not least, there's an emerging trend which seems to point towards adults' (especially politicians, people in power) tendency to think it's okay to pick fights with children over causes they don't want to bother about. It's okay to disagree with anyone about anything, but it's never okay for someone with prominence and privilege to bully young helpless kids. We see it in Greta's fight over environmental issues, we see it in Malala Yousafzai's fight against education inequality for girls. Closer to home (Malaysia), we see it in Ain Husniza's fight to #MakeSchoolASaferPlace, we see it in Veveonah Mosibin's experience of being a victim of digital inequality during the pandemic. These are just a few examples. What's wrong with adults?
In short, I highly recommend this book. It delivers important messages, but it's very easy to read and surprisingly a page-turner, too.
View all my reviews
I've been a GoodReads member for many years, but last year was the year that I started to update my shelves and to post reviews more consistently. I think it's a good way to keep track of books that I've read. More than that, it's a good way to force myself to put my reflections down in writing. It's also a great way to motivate myself to read more books.
Go here if you're interested in connecting with me on GoodReads, We can share thoughts on books, and discuss bookish stuffs together :)
Till the next.
ccj, Duvanson, 16th May 2021
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