REVIEW: THE PERFECT SON, BY BARBARA CLAYPOLE WHITE

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On her way home from a visit with her elderly father, Ella Fitzwilliam is feeling stressed and troubled, as her only son Harry is struggling to make choices for his future, and his exacting, perfectionist father Felix is not making things easier. Harry is brilliant, so Felix sees an Ivy League college in his future; however, Harry’s Tourette’s syndrome and other neurological challenges render him uncontrollable at times. Stress makes everything harder for him, too.

Suddenly Ella is racked with gripping pain and an inability to breathe, and when the plane lands, she is whisked off to the hospital, where she is diagnosed with a severe heart attack.

In the weeks that follow, Ella will struggle to recover, and needs a transplant, while Felix struggles to be the father he has never been…due to his own fear of becoming like his abusive father. He begins to look at his own flaws, and realizes that his obsessiveness is likely part of a larger disorder, like Obsessive Compulsive Personality Disorder.

Alternating narratives carry The Perfect Son, and while both Felix and Harry are deeply flawed, I rooted for them as they tried to connect with one another. Felix’s need for order is in direct opposition to what Harry brings to the table…Harry’s tics make him a walking disaster area. But as they each try to adapt, they find a way to cohabit…and even bond.

There were some very difficult moments in this father/son journey, and I found myself tearing up as each one had to find a way to move past his fears.

What would happen to Ella? Would she recover? If not, how would Felix and Harry manage? And would they finally discover that elusive bond that should have happened years before?

I loved how each character’s narrative told us a little more about them individually, back to how they began, and how the secrets they kept from one another would gradually come to light and shed hope on their future.

Other interesting characters: Eudora, the 75-year-old woman next door who is supportive and wise; and Katherine, Ella’s friend, who begins to see something good in Felix, and he in her, too.

Set in Durham, NC, the author showed the reader the beauty of the world around the characters, even as she drew us so deeply into that world until the characters felt like people we could care about. 5 stars.

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