(Giveaway!) Book Review: I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames by Jeni Decker

Note:  I contacted Jeni Decker a couple of months ago to request a copy for review of her book I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames, having heard about it on various social networking sites.  Her publisher sent a review copy and will send another free copy to the lucky giveaway winner.  Other than the review copy, I have not received or been offered any sort of compensation or blog promotion for my review.  

Okay, kids.  Let me preface my review of I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames by Jeni Decker with a warning.  If you are rendered insensible from frank discussion of topics such as homosexuality, masturbation, and poop, please gather your belongings and locate the nearest exit.  Because, though I adore and value you as much as any of my readers, there is no point encouraging you to read a book that will upset your constitution.  Each and every one of us have preferences in our reading material.  If you are offended by these topics, think mothers should never share potentially embarrassing stories of their children, or are a stalwart social conservative who can’t take a little liberal ribbing – by all means find another book to read.  (This is not to be construed as a political stance of my own.  I have friends all over the political spectrum and am quite happy to remain that way.)  Jeni Decker is unapologetically true to both herself and her opinions and does not mince her words.  Some of you might get offended.  Those of you with more relaxed literary tastes, however, should remain for the rest of my review.

(Jeni Decker should kiss me for that warning, by the way.  It’s enough to tempt curious souls, don’t you think?)  😉

I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames is parts memoir, manifesto, and poetry all rolled into one.  They come at you in separate bursts that end up telling the story of Jeni Decker’s admittedly chaotic life.  Decker, mother to two children on the autism spectrum and wife to a husband in renal failure, is a woman struggling to deal with the challenging hand life dealt her while managing to pursue a successful writing and film making career.  That she manages to do it with such humor and unflinching honesty is to her credit.  But she does — and all while maintaining a healthy perspective of “Well, why not me?”.

And all prior teasing about shocking content aside, spectrum kids do have real issues with socially acceptable behavior.  Shocking content is often in the job description of parents of ASD kids.  My child is too young to worry about that right now, but I have taught spectrum kids before.  I remember how horrified I was the first time one such child demonstrated a lack of awareness of sexually inappropriate behavior. I was caught between really not wanting to address it, pity for the oblivious child who had to have it gently explained, and a sense of duty to do so anyway.  Puberty, suffice it to say, is rough on kids with autism.  And rough on the parents/caregivers who love them.  Many of Decker’s funnier stories are related to her kids attempts to make sense of the sexual world, its nature and mores.  They, in the direct way of the ASD child, ask uncomfortable questions that Decker feels no more ready to answer than any of the rest of us.  So, she does it in the only way she knows how – being herself – with often hilarious yet touching results.

Interspersed with her irreverent humor are glimpses into Decker the woman – an artistic soul deeply in love with and committed to her children, yet passionate in her beliefs and individuality.

“I am one person with many facts, each one as important as the other, and I don’t believe one facet negates the other.”

If you share her politics, you’ll get a kick out her humor.  Even if you don’t, try to overlook those jabs and appreciate the book for what it is – a brutally honest portrait of the life of a parent with multiple children on the spectrum.  Lightning often does strike twice in autism families.  (It struck three times in mine.)  We need to hear these stories and share these perspectives.

What impresses me more than Decker’s wit, however, are the subtle yet poignant moments demonstrating the very real differences in thinking between autistics and neurotypicals.  In one chapter, Decker tells the story of an impossible dream of her son’s and his attempts to have a particular company contact him about his idea.  He perseverates on it, and she must endure months of his asking for mail every day.  At one point, Decker even wrote the company herself – begging them to respond to her enthusiastic but oh-so-different little boy.  They never did.  She relates notes home from teachers about disastrous school days for her children.  Days that obviously hurt the mother inside even while Decker maintains a brave and defensive stance.  And strewn throughout her narrative are her son’s touching, often unintentionally moving journal entries and poems.

“I wonder if there are hidden colors in the world?  There just might be hidden colors in the world…” 

I liked I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames.  There are moments throughout the book that took me by surprise in their heartfelt rendering of the uniqueness of the autistic mind and the complexities of preparing these children of ours for the perceptions of the world.  I left it thinking how, though similar in our joys, frustrations, and fears for our children, we are all actually very different in our individual journeys with autism.   We all have stories to tell.  And we must be fearless in hearing them.  Decker says it best here:

“There is a difference between resignation and acceptance.  You have to eat what’s on your plate, not shove it around until it resembles something else.  But you’ve really made it when you can find the good that comes out of the pain.  Pain and joy are equally necessary in life — without one, you wouldn’t be able to recognize the other.  What I’ve learned about life is that it’s about getting from point A to point B but everyone does this differently…With each living person, history is left to judge what their contribution to the world might be.  Labels, supposedly, inform who we are, but the beauty of life is that it enables us to accept or reject them at will.  We can allow others to define us, or decide for ourselves who we really are.”

To enter for a free copy of I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames, please leave a comment below.  I will announce a winner on April 18th.  Good luck!

If you would like to check out Jeni Decker, you can locate her on Twitter, her website, or Facebook.

For more reading by parents of multiple spectrum kids, check out Adventures in Extreme Parenthood by Sunday Stillwell. 

65 thoughts on “(Giveaway!) Book Review: I Wish I Were Engulfed in Flames by Jeni Decker

  1. usethebrainsgodgiveyou

    “Labels, supposedly, inform who we are, but the beauty of life is that it enables us to accept or reject them at will. ”

    I liked this quote very much. I have been labelled by the APA, but I figure they can take a flying leap.

    We are who we are, and labels just make us see the negative in ourselves. Imagine the DSM’s counterbalance–a book about every good thing about being crazy by the world’s standards. No therapy necessary. Do realize how many billions of people survive without therapy or drugs? Do you?

  2. Jim Reeve

    The book sounds very interesting. And I know my wife would love to read it. We only have 1 child with an ASD and I personally couldn’t imagine having 2 or 3 children on the spectrum.

  3. Brandi Hoffman

    Yes, yes, yes! Engulf me in flames, Please! I feel this way with only one child on the spectrum, and a healthy husband. Although I have worked with adults with developmental disibilities for 12 years, and I question my sanity on a regular basis!
    Thanks for your consideration!

  4. autismmom

    Your review has really sparked my interest in this book. I have a son who is 9 and I know will be going through pubity soon so some insight on it would be great!

  5. autismmom

    Your review really interests me! I have a son with ASD and will be going through pubity soon. SOme insight would be great!

  6. melissa

    What a fabulous title! Sounds right up my alley. For other than fluff, most of what I read is life stories of autists, their families, and/or friends

  7. Theresa Webster

    This book sounds amazing. I’m all for trying to find humor in situations that at times just make you want to cry.

  8. Tabitha hoffstatter

    I can’t wait to get my hands on this book!!!
    I’m very excited to read something different than your run of the mill boring ASD books.

  9. Catharine P

    I haven’t heard of this book yet, but I would love to read it! I have 4 boys. One on the spectrum, with severe autism, and at age 8, things are starting to get more challenging. I feel alone in this world with my situation so it’s always refreshing to get another’s perspective, especially one who’s already been there or there now. I definitely thrive on encouragement from other parents of kids with autism. Excited!

  10. Pam G.

    Hmmm…autism and puberty? Yes, there is no denying the inevitable, right? My son is 12 years old and we have been thrust into this new chapter of our lives. I look forward to reading this book because it sounds like the author handles situations like we do in our house, we try to find humor in it all. Sometimes it is more of a challenge, however it is the philosophy that has helped us succeed through the rough patches that Autism can bring to a family. Bring it on!!!!!

  11. Joyce

    I have to admit, I was, at first, put off by the title of this book. However, as a mother of a boy wth autism, it would be nice to read something that simultaneously enlightens and tickles my funny bone.

  12. Jen Lathrop

    Definitely on my “must read” list now! Thanks for reviewing it! I’d love to win a copy…

  13. Mel

    I have one child on the spectrum and I’m pretty sure our boy is going to give us some very interesting challenges. Sounds like a great read.

  14. Jeni Decker

    First… LIES, ALL LIES. I paid her and paid her well for this review! (Kidding, but I totally would have after reading it!)

    Second… will you be my agent, Flappiness? Because I’ve given up looking for one and from that intro paragraph, I think you’d do a great job of it!

    Third…This review made me tear up. Yeah, yeah, I know… I’m in grave danger of damaging my street cred, because I’m known on the interwebs as a sassy, irreverent, dare I say *gasp* the sometimes vulgar girl who says what she means and means what she says and is saying it way too loudly to begin with.

    It would probably surprise many to know that I’m really kind of a mushy “wuss” in real life. Just ask my co-hort in crime (co-writer Kat Nove on the book “Waiting for Karl Rove.”)

    She learned the true identity behind my mask and bedazzled cape during a recent trip to Las Vegas (my first time being away from the boys for over 10 years!). We had a little blog contest of our own going, and requested dares from our followers – most of which Kat had to perform because I have a hard time approaching people in public and asking them to do stuff. I don’t like bothering people. She called me naughty names most of the trip.

    I suppose I find my strength, my “voice” when I write – and I certainly credit my kids for having brought it out in me. The once painfully shy kid and teen blossomed because of those two boys, so I owe way more to them than I could ever pay back in wiped butts and answers to questions about God.

    The job, as I see it, is to be that loud voice for them, until such time as they can do the yelling for themselves. And it’s a job I’m grateful to have.

    So, gentle readers – be not afraid. Though the topics might be a little cringe-worthy at times, it’s all about the truth… as I see it. You don’t have to claim that same truth as your own, I promise. 😉

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      See, Jeni, you just need English lit majors reviewing you. We’re trained to see past the immediately visible to the deep, dark mushiness within. Your book reminds me a little of my experiences reading Toni Morrison and Sapphire. Startling, edgy, shocking to my senses, but really profound and poignant when you look deeper. It’s more arty than your typical autism books, which are usually informational.

      I’ll be happy to be your agent if you’ll be mine. Of course, I haven’t actually written a book yet…lol But I keep hoping one of them will find me and BEG for me to write for them. Oh yeah…that doesn’t really happen does it? LOL

      1. Jeni Decker

        Oh, so I should target Lit Majors! Good to know!

        I understand that the execution, even while bathed in sarcasm, irony and way too many scatological references, can be offputting to some, and I hold no ill will to those who don’t relate to it – or even react negatively to the book. I was told from the get go that there would be no middle ground for me – readers would either love or hate it (and me). So I had fair warning.

        I am happy to report that the vast majority of responses have been overwhelmingly positive and the dozens of e-mails I’ve received have bolstered my initial instinct that telling the truth in my own way was, in fact, the way to go. Every email I’ve gotten has one thing in common: they are all so excited to have been able to get a glimpse into the lives of a family that is eerily similar to their own. I think being able to be honest about these kind of topics, often brutally so, breaks down those barriers – the ones that we often encounter… or put out there ourselves, (in fear or guilt or shame or whatever…) which speak of “half-truths” and watered-down descriptions of what our lives are actually like.

        I was thoroughly unprepared for what I was to encounter as the parent of two autistic kids, because the many books I read on the topic when I set out to research, long ago, seemed to tell only part of the story – or were books that spoke to statistics and facts, but not about emotions and hopes – and… I found little with humor. I’m happy to say much has changed in that regard since I signed on to Amazon and spent an entire paycheck on books about autism. Now I think parents, educators and people with autism (or autistic people – however you choose to say it) feel more free to share their stories (their full, unfettered, unabashed, unPC, un-filtered or watered down) however uncomfortable or upsetting they may be.

        I read Jake many of the stories as I was writing them and he was so tickled, not only to be the “star” of a book, but also to have his work included. At some point he became bored of me saying, “Jake, I’ve got another chapter!” He was like, “Yeah, whatever Mom. Can I have a juice box?”

        The other great thing that he’s learned is… sarcasm. As most of you know, sarcasm and metaphors and irony and puns tend to fly right over the heads of autistic people because they are literal thinkers. They have to learn these things that the rest of us inherently come to understand. Now, if I say something he’s unsure of, he’ll ask, “Was that sarcasm?”

        More often than not, my answer is, “Yes, honey, that was sarcasm.” 😉

        Jeni 😉

  15. Jenn McCormick (@mom2boys77)

    reading about other parents’ experiences is a way to become a close-knit community. We learn more about ourselves through our experiences with others experiences.

    can’t wait to read this, even if I don’t win an advanced copy of it!

  16. birdbrain

    This sounds like a fantastic book. I have an almost 5 year old boy on the spectrum and an 18 month old boy with whom the jury is still out on. In my son’s short five years one this planet I have had my fair share of poop and masturbation to deal with :-) Puberty scares me a little! It is a wee bit comfomforting to know I am not the only one out there that spends so much time addressing these issues an an enormous amount of complex questions.
    Please count me in on your book giveaway :-)

  17. lisabowersbohn

    Jeni describes herself as “sassy, irreverent, and sometimes vulgar”? Sounds like my kinda gal. I am so excited to read this book…Mommy to a 4 yo boy with autism and a 2 yo boy who appears to be NT at this point, and, like previous posters, a bit terrified about puberty…looking forward to reading the book, whether I win the advance copy or buy my own! Thanks!

  18. April Carter

    I had not heard of this book until today from this very site!

    Flappiness WOULD obviously make a great agent, because I’m now intrigued. I leave this website torn between buying this book RIGHT NOW or waiting to see if I win–either way, it’s now on my must-read list :)

  19. kate morse

    I love parents who have the nerve to be frank, real and open about living life with ASD kids. Its nice to know that I’m not alone….and my brash thoughts are swimming through other heads as well. =)

  20. Susan Stec

    What a great review! I’m not entering the contest. I’ve read the book – have it on my nook, kindle and book shelf.
    A bit too much?
    Nah, I’m very proud of her crude, sarcastic wit – I take full credit for each and every one of her unseemly qualities – taught her everything she knows.


  21. spicyt

    I think ur gna make this book really popular! lol…it sounds like my kinda read tho! My 17 y/o dtr has aspergers and is graduating this year, wich is so exciting because we were not sure she would…school has been a struggle to say the least! Puberty wasn’t too bad with her….this book sounds like its written by a woman with a personality similar to my own…lol, and I’m not afraid to tell people anything about my life…TMI…? Bodily functions, sex, frustration…its all part of life, so why are people so afraid to talk about it? Anyway…I would LOVE to win this book…buying it would have to wait, since we are having to scrimp and save for Jessies 18h bday, Senor Prom and GRADUATION all happening within the next 6 weeks!!! The graduation part has me tearing up already…I truly never thought we would make it to this point!!! My baby did it! She actually got thru highschool! Now, her next battle is Cosmotology School…cross ur fingers!
    Luv ur blog!

  22. jennifer

    Not long ago you posted about finding it difficult to deal with dramatic television and the like. I feel the exact same way so I am trusting that if you were able to read and enjoy this book that I would enjoy it also. Thanks for the recommendation!

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      No, this isn’t a sad book. But she is brutally honest about her life, which some may not find to their taste. Mostly, it’s a lot like a sitcom in terms of her relating her life’s craziness. :)

  23. Amy

    I love a chance to win this book! I have 6 children, my 6 year old twin boys have autism. I love reading about other families experiences with autism.

  24. Lynne Pardi

    I definitely want to read this book! I promise I won’t be shocked. As the mother of a twentysomething autistic son, I find no behaviors “shocking” — only acceptable or unacceptable; so, I won’t be needing the smelling salts if masturbation is mentioned, or if poop pops up. I found that developing a sense of humor about “indelicate subjects” worked for me as a coping mechanism and helped me to survive many awkward & embarrassing moments! One must be honest, direct, and down-to-earth when dealing with autism, whether as a parent, teacher, doctor, relative, neighbor, etc. Sounds to me like the author of “I Wish I were Engulfed In Flames” offers both humor and honesty in abundance!

  25. Polly M.

    I can handle pretty much anything…I guess that would include “liberal ribbing”, whatever that means. Inferring that because I’m conservative, I might not be able to deal with a book like this is just a little insulting. I won’t speak for anyone else, but honestly…did you have to say *any* of that? Kinda disappointing.

    1. Profile photo of FlappinessIsFlappinessIs Post author

      Polly, I’m a moderate Republican myself, it might surprise you to know. I was merely attempting to use a bit of humor to poke fun of those in my party who can’t take a joke from someone left of center. Having read the book, I was privy to some direct conservative snarking that I didn’t think stricter social conservatives would appreciate. Since I am a Republican and also happen to be open minded, it never once occurred to me that the two might be mutually exclusive. I’m sorry if you felt I was insulting you personally. It was not intended as such.

      1. Jeni Decker

        Polly and Flappiness… no worries all. I completely understand why the political ribbing line was used in the review. I have come across readers – not of this book, but in reviews of other books I have seen – who felt “ambushed” (in their words) – by reading something that had much ribbing for both parties. Some people do not want to read anything that might go against their own political leanings. I have always been of the belief that there is plenty of room for ribbing all around :-)

        My beef is usually with specific politicians, but I generally think that average people out there can see absurdity wherever it lies, whatever the political affiliation. But to Flappiness point, and her warning, there are those who absolutely do not take kindly to any negative discussion or comments about anyone in their party, and would not appreciate a book that included it, whatever the rest of the content might include.
        As an author, I do take on all kinds of controversial topics, in most everything I write, so criticism of such comes with the territory. I understand that going in, and cannot then be upset if the content of anything I write might be offensive to some. I can only write about topics that move me, try to entertain in the process, and hope that in the end, the reader does not judge me any more harshly than they would expect to be judged for offering up their own thoughts, opinions and ideas. Ones that I might disagree with.

        Memoir, then, becomes an even dicier matter, because once someone puts themselves out there, they are not only being judged by their writing ability and style, and content, but who the are as a person. It would be so easy to get offended, say, by scathing comments, or people who criticize who you are. But, in the end, we are all entitled to be who we are and go about our lives in the best way we see fit, and have our own opinions. I do not begrudge anyone who looks at my book and finds fault with it or the choices I have made.

        But one thing I will never do is apologize for it. I am doing my best on any given day and for me, the proof is always in the puddin’ puddin :-). I have a happy family who are all thriving and laughter continues to be the mainstay.

        Most of the above had nothing to do with Polly and Flappiness’ comments, but it is late and once I get on a roll…. :-)

        I want to thank everyone for the comments and support! Now I should probably get to bed :-)

  26. Billie Rodriguez

    Sounds interesting and exactly like my life minus the husband with renal failure add a partner with sever depression. I often feel like I am running around engulfed in flames too!

  27. Becky Frazier

    Awesome! To read such a book, and know that I am not the only one on this journey…amazing! I enjoy humor and it is being able to laugh at myself that gets me through each day. This review has enticed me and I shall hung this book down and devour it in those late night moments, when the kids are in bed (finally) and house work is on hold, and I take 5 to do something for myself to remind myself that I am strong and can do this!

  28. Nancy J

    I am the mother of a 17yr. old son. He is high functionning now, but was not always. I am blessed to have him in my life, and love him dearly. We all have our stories to tell, some are funny and some will rip your heart out. It is always good to hear about the experiances of others. It helps to know I’m not the only one who laughs, loves and keeps living.

  29. Jessica Stevens

    Wow. You are the second person this week that has mentioned this book. I was told by the first person this is a must read after she found out I have two on the spectrum. I will definitely have to get this book! Thanks for the info as I honestly couldn’t remember the entire title and was going to ask the lady the name but I haven’t seem to be able to see her at the school since that day!

  30. Jessica Stevens

    Ps I am currently writing a book as well. Autism in the Raw. It’s gonna be the good, bad & ugly and I plan to leave nothing out. People need the truth not just one side or part. Some only wanna write about the good…or really bad. I love the idea of balance and honesty, sounds like you and author agrees with me!

  31. Suzanne Keyes

    Ooh! A book that sounds like my life! My hub has progressive MS, my dd is 13 and ds (on the spectrum) is 5. Love the title! Will be reading, if I win or not.

  32. angela fiore

    I am the grandmother of two autistic children and would love to read this book. My daughter and I try to read all we can.

  33. Donna Pittman

    I have an 11 year old son with Autism. We are literally teetering on the brink of that vast unknown space that is “puberty…..with a side of Autism. I NEED to win this book!

    1. Lynne Pardi

      You will get through it, Donna! You’ll meet it with Faith, lots of love, help wherever you can get it, and a sense of humor! This is for Flappiness: Please take me out of the contest to win the book. Give it to one of these courageous & wonderful parents whose kids are still young and who are struggling with all of the tough, growing-up issues & challenges. I remember being there, “on the front lines,” so to speak! They need more than I do to hear from a survivor who can encourage them, make them laugh a little, and perhaps empower them in the challenges they are facing. I will eventually get this book & read it; but, there are others who NEED it right now more than I do. Thanks, Good friend!

  34. Robin

    Sounds interesting! I already struggle with Finn liking his hands down his pants way too much & he is only 5! LOL! I think for him it is more of a comfort thing when he is really worked up.

    1. Limor Tintweiss

      Sounds like a bookI would really enjoy for its frank discussion and its “realness”. As a psychologist working with autistic kids, I think this book can clarify a lot for me.

  35. Krissy

    Sounds like my type of book. Have you read, ” My Baby Rides the Short Bus: The Unabashedly Human Experience of Raising Kids with Disabilities”. It is based on parents with kids with disabilities and parents who diabilites as well with a warp sense of humor…….If I do not win this book, I may have to wait until payday after bills to order this one.

  36. Christine

    I have said for years that we need books about families that have more than one child on the spectrum. Makes sense to me that a book about such a family would have a title like this. I was always hungering for help and advice that would make our family life manageable. I am beginning to think now that no such help exists. All the same, we like to know we are not alone in dealing with the overthetop stresses. Thanks for addressing the gaping void. Can’t wait to read the book..

  37. Pam O'Connor

    I love the irreverant sound of this book. Thanks so much for the book reviews. I enjoy them very much.

  38. Cait

    Damn,Damn Damn!!! I have put off catching up on my Fappiness reading until now because I have 3 more weeks of school until Finals and graduation ( Associates Degree–not really worth celebrating). After reading this review another book has been added to my summer reading pile.But this sounds much better than Organic Chemistry.

    1. Lynne Pardi

      Any college degree is well-worth celebrating, as far as I’m concerned. Congratulations on the (very near) completion of your academic endeavors! Take that knowledge and use it well. :)

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