It’s not often that I pick up a book these days and can focus long enough to get my head into it. I think it’s a psychological block – knowing that my time is limited due to being a full time carer. This seems to make it a demand that I get a fear if I start a book I’ll get disappointed not getting a moment to carry on and enjoy it.
When I picked up Why is He Still Here, by Max Toper, I perused the first few pages and suddenly I was gripped. It took less than a weekend to read because it was all I could think about. As I read each page the story came to life in front of my very eyes and I was right there; at the epicentre of the drama. I guess you could say it was escapism at it’s best.
As a parent of an Autistic and ADHD child, I can relate to a fellow SEND family’s journey, regardless of whether it is worlds apart to my own. We always share some aspect of emotional experience – whether that be a misunderstanding from others, the inequality of an education or system, or simply the challenges of navigating life – something tends to hit a chord.
This book, however, was a deep and complicated story – one that safely fits within experiences that are familiar in the PDA vicinity. It is a memoir, written from an eighteen year old’s perspective, which charts growing up and finding his own identity (via multiple experiences and wrongdoings). The plot is cleverly interwoven between his escapism and learnings from being online; with hapless scrapes through a very unforgiving (and at times useless) education system.
The title of the book is a tale in it’s own right. In an email from Max, he explained to me where it came from:
After an incident in Primary School, my mother was called to the head teacher’s office where she was told that “parents, students, and staff, are wondering why he’s still here.” (They were, of course, referring to my nine-year-old self.)Max Toper – Why is He Still Here?
As shocking and unprofessional as it sounds to read, it also had a profound effect on me. I realised that I had heard the very same words uttered about my six-year old daughter whilst she was at primary school too. My niece had been in the same year group and had come home from school upset – as the tears rolled down her cheeks she said she could hear the teachers discussing her cousin. She told me they had said “why is she still here,” as they vented their outrage that my daughter was spotted on the school field at a sports event.
So much of the story resonated with me and I’m sure it will for others too. The story is emotionally charged from start to finish and there are moments which made me smile. The pure determination and creative intelligence Max has definitely illustrates the true essence of a PDA profile. There are particular moments of his journey which left me dumbfounded. He has a gifted way of showing that he can think outside of the box and that his potential is way bigger than any boring system could mould him into.
There are some interesting characters along the way – some of whom help shape his experiences and support him emotionally (these happen online and in person). However, there are other influential people in his life that force him to accumulate trauma and threaten to quash his lively spirit.
One of those negative forces was so bad to him (I think over a three year period) that it plagued his nightmares for years. Without spoiling the plot it is a professional who works closely with him and who is able to bully, manipulate and abuse him. I could not read the book without feeling such deep felt anger on Max Toper’s behalf. Individuals in the system should be outed by their colleagues and must never be given the chance to work with children.
The influence of the good ones over the years definitely restore our faith in those we are supposed to trust. As I read one of the letters that Max wrote to his wonderful mentor, I actually cried non-stop.
You know when something is written well because it hits you on another level and leaves the characters, good or for bad, neatly etched into your subconscious.
This book, according to Max, has cost a lot to get off the ground and is not something that he believes will make a big difference to him financially. For him, instead it is about sharing his story, to inspire others. Well, it certainly did the trick for me.
I sincerely hope this book gets into the public sphere and can make a real difference. I really wish it was protocol for educational staff to read a memoir like this and for training around SEND to be more in depth. Teachers, school staff, psychologists, paediatricians, psychiatrists, occupational therapists, speech and language therapists, health visitors and social workers – anyone who comes into regular contact with children could benefit from reading a book like this.
*Why is He Still Here by Max Toper is available to pre-order from Amazon (and is due to be released on February 24th 2021).
**Disclaimer** No payment was taken to review this book and all views are my own.