A Friend Like Henry – Nuala Gardner

The remarkable true story of an autistic boy and the dog that unlocked his world
The remarkable true story of an autistic boy and the dog that unlocked his world

A Friend Like Henry is an old favourite of mine. I remember being very underwhelmed with Marley and Me when it was popularised, because I had already read (and watched) this, in my opinion, much better and complex story.

Like Marley and Me, the book is based on a real life story. The boy has severe autism, and the majority of the book describes the family life of the Gardner’s and how a golden retriever made a huge impact to their lives. Without having any personal experience of autism, please accept my apologies if I get anything wrong/generalise etc, happy to be educated in the comments or with a private message!

From my understanding, friends who work with patients/parents with autism are encouraged to read books including this one to understand perspectives, challenges and ways to identify these. The book manages to tread the line between light-hearted (consistently making me laugh/laugh-cry) and poignant (especially when local authorities and school bullies become part of the story).

The story is told from the mothers perspective, and really builds a relationship with the reader whether a parent or not. I really enjoyed it as someone who doesn’t have children, instead appreciating the difficulties of having a new puppy in the household!!! (For those who aren’t aware, the reason for a lack of reviews over the past few months is due to Monty the Frenchie becoming part of our family).

I personally think there’s a lot to relate to throughout the book – and although the narrative style isn’t for everyone, it definitely stands up as a cohesive if not basic style which is easy to follow.

Now – this is when I have to talk about the last couple of chapters. Obviously, some of you may be ahead of me on this one, but at the end of the book something sad happens…. my references to Marley and Me and the similarities unfortunately come to fruition here. This is not an exaggeration, it took me around 90 minutes to read 3 pages of the book because I couldn’t see through my constant tears. Only when my tear ducts were so depleted could I finish the book and put an end to a very sad narrative end to the story.

Despite this, you can’t help but feel pride for the family throughout the book, and in the events following the aforementioned sad event. It’s a testament of story telling, understanding and the power of owning a golden retriever.

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