A Brief Moment In Time by Deborah French: Book Review

Reviewing a memoir is quite different from reviewing fiction. Instead of looking for narrative structure and memorable characters you are looking for genuine sentiment and an insight into the world of the writer. Suffice to say I was only a few pages into A Brief Moment In Time before I broke into tears and had to put it down. ‘This will have to be read in stages,’ I told myself, and I was right. Deborah French’s story is 100% honest from the word go, but it is not an easy journey. I can only imagine how difficult it must have been to write because it’s quite an experience to read.
The book opens with the birth of Deborah’s second child, Amariah and you are instantly transported into the mind of Deborah as she experiences the diagnosis of Down’s Syndrome. From that life-changing moment we are taken through her life chronologically as she learns to deal with the diagnosis and other people’s reactions. True to life’s unfair nature, just as Deborah and her husband Johnny are adjusting to life, they learn that Henry, their first son, has Autistic Spectrum Disorder. The book follows the couple as they struggle through the schooling system, the lack of information available and a move to Israel.
Although attitudes to special needs children are significantly more understanding than they used to be, A Brief Moment In Time highlights the fact that there is still a stigma, a lack of understanding and ultimately a certain amount of ignorance concerning these issues. It is Deborah’s honesty that truly allows the reader to understand life from both the children’s point of view and the parents’. Her humility allows the reader to empathise with her situation, understanding her actions and reactions.
Although my reading experience of this book started with tears of sadness, as it continued the tears quickly turned into ones of happiness. No one can know how they would react to a similar situation in their own life, but I only hope that I would be as strong, methodical and tenacious as Deborah. Instead of spending her time fretting over other people’s reactions to her children, she researched their conditions, the help available and learned how she could assist them to live happily in this world. She writes about how casting aside denial was one of the key parts of making progress, allowing her to see the world from Henry’s point of view and ultimately reach out to him in a way that no-one else could.
The book itself is well written, thoughtfully structured and a wonderful example of what life is really like with twins and two special needs children. It would be an extremely helpful guide to anyone facing a similar future, but overall it is an insightful look into the reality of special needs children and will hopefully help to educate people in the future. Deborah, Amariah and Henry teach us that the label ‘special needs’ is there to ensure these children receive the care essential to their progression and happiness, not to separate them from what is considered ‘normal’.