Entertainment Weekly called it a must-read and described it as "nostalgic, sad, and pee-in-your-pants funny." A review in the Los Angeles Times says "it's hard to recall another collection of essays, or a memoir, with more natural charm."
I turned to the back cover and read this:
Here's a quick way to determine if you're going to enjoy Diana Joseph's essay collection, I'm Sorry You Feel That Way. Read the following:
"Yesterday my son was turning the pages in his eighth-grade yearbook so we could play a game I came up with called Guess Which Kids are Retarded. The boy thought the game was terrible, so cruel and so mean that I should have to pay a fine, I should have to pay him ten bucks every time I was wrong."
If you find that paragraph offensive, you will hate this book.
If you know you should find this paragraph offensive, but secretly find it hilarious, you should buy this book. Immediately.
Really? Let's imagine the author had replaced "retarded kids" with another marginalized group: gays, for example, or immigrants, or people with physical disabilities? Would that line still be considered funny? This book was published in 2010. Has humour evolved so little that "retarded kids" must be relied on as the brunt of jokes between mother and son?
In the past, I would have just put the book down and forgotten it.
But instead, I couldn't help remembering a conversation I had with a Toronto mother of a young woman with intellectual disability last week. She was telling me about her daughter's efforts to find work. Mother and daughter had visited a case worker at an employment support program. They were referred to agencies who could help the daughter find work.
These agencies place people in positions at well-known retail, grocery and restaurant chains.
But guess what's on the job description at every single one? Cleaning the bathroom. Yes, cleaning the bathroom is on ALL job descriptions made available to people with intellectual disabilities. The mother and daughter were forewarned.
Is there some reason why people with intellectual disabilities are better at cleaning toilets than the average person?
Yes, I guess you could say someone has to clean the bathroom, and students and young adults who are looking for work have to be willing to do anything.
But what does it tell you about how the business world, our government and our culture view people with intellectual disabilities when the ONLY job available to them involves cleaning human waste?
And is the message at the employment support program any different than the one the memoirist above gave her son—the demeaning one that won her rave reviews? Even Library Journal calls her "trenchantly funny."
The employment support program explained to mother and daughter that whenever a person is placed in a job, the agency that did the placement receives a grant from the government. "Person with intellectual disability cleaning bathrooms? Job well done!"
Sometimes it's really depressing to sit at my desk, reading news stories on disability and hearing from families on the frontlines.
Sometimes I'm tired of connecting the dots in a system that blatantly discriminates against people like my son, then serves it up as sanctioned literary comedy.