The Perfect Son by Barbara Claypole White is rated 3 stars because while most of this book was very engaging and well done, the last few chapters of the book were too unbelievable to warrant a 4 star rating. This is a book which shows flawed and authentic characters, making a unrealistic ending more damaging to the story.
Note: I have listed trigger warnings at the end of this review. They can be considered spoilers, so I have marked them as such. I’m happy to answer any questions about the trigger warnings I’ve described below.
This book ended up being different from what I expected and it was a book I enjoyed more because of that. It is told from three points of view, Ella (the mom), Felix (the dad), and Harry (the son), but it heavily focuses on Felix’s point of view. I had expected to mostly read from Ella’s perspective, but hers with the least frequently used. While I expected this to be a story about Ella’s struggle to come to terms with her failing health and her inability to care for her son, this story is not really about her at all. In fact, she is much more of a side character used to further the story along. This is a story about a father struggling to accept who his son is while overcoming his own flaws. It is an incredibly powerful story and the depth of Felix’s character greatly adds to the impact.
The story was interesting and there was a lot of character growth, but some of it falls flat and doesn’t ring true. Felix is the most flushed out and most of his growth feels real, though at the very end, he makes a significant leap that feels a bit unrealistic. Ella grows the least and her growth is probably realistic, but there’s so little of her perspective, it’s hard to know. Harry is the least realistic character and his growth is a bit simplistic and not fully flushed out. The problem is that there’s not much depth to his thoughts or much internal conflict. Overall, he was way too happy and way too accepting of everything and while there are people with such optimism, even they must have some internal struggle which is just not depicted in Harry. There was a lot of potential there, but it wasn’t flushed out as well as it could be. Harry’s character probably would have felt more real if it wasn’t in such stark contrast to Felix’s character. Felix felt incredibly real and it was obvious the author understood his perspective well. But that made it more obvious she didn’t understand Harry’s perspective very well.
This book was a refreshing divergence from the standard family drama. In The Perfect Son, the drama is driven by clear health conditions, making it feel less like rubbernecking at a serious car accident. This family faces real, concrete problems and they put in substantial work to navigate and adapt to these problems. I loved this about the book. There were sections that were definitely 4 stars because of the depth and authenticity of every aspect of the particular situation and characters. Unfortunately, that made it all the more obvious where the book failed to do this. It’s particularly unforunate that this book was told from multiple perspectives since two out of three of those perspectives were of only partially developed characters.
That ending! That’s the part of the book that dropped this solidly to 3 stars. I would love to go on a rant her about how ridiculous the ending was, but I don’t want to spoil anything for you. What I will say is that the ending felt rushed and did not stay true to the characters or the style of the book. It’s jarring to have most of the book struggle and work to overcome various problems and then at the very end have a major event which is perfectly resolved and presents no future problems. It is really unfortunate that the ending was so bad otherwise this could have been an incredible book which shows diverse perspectives of a child with Tourette’s syndrome and a father with perfectionist issues.
Overall, the book was engaging and interesting and it was refreshing to see flawed characters. This probably would have been a 3.5 star read if not for the ending, which was too neatly wrapped in a bow, except for the one significant piece of the storyline which was not addressed or resolved. The neat bow in the last chapter set 5 years later would have been less annoying had the previous chapters (starting with a trip) not been so over the top perfectly played out. For a story which presented flawed and real characters, it was disappointing to have it all end in a not so realistic way. If the book sounds interesting to you, I recommend it, but do note that it is closer to a beach read than literary fiction since one has to suspend a bit of reality to enjoy the ending.
I listened to the audiobook version of this book and it was well done. I do recommend this narration if you are considering the audiobook. It’s the narration more than anything else that has really stayed with me after finishing this book. If you enjoy audiobooks, that is definitely the way to go.
Trigger warnings: [SPOILER ALERT] child abuse, graphically depicted; domestic violence, implied; mental illness (OCPD), graphically shown and described; fight scene with physical confrontation; bullying, minimally depicted [/SPOILER ALERT]
Note: part of this review was originally posted on Goodreads. New original sections were added to this blog post.