The Parent Trap
Pasadena novelist focuses on autism, keeping up with the Joneses in “Living through Charlie”
By Sara Cardine 06/22/2012
Drawing the line between a parent’s expectations and a child’s reality will be up for discussion Sunday as local author Rebecca Woods comes to Vroman’s Bookstore in Pasadena for a reading and signing of her new book, “Living Through Charlie.” A first novel that draws on the author’s own background, the book gives a darkly comedic look at private school parent politics and one mother’s struggle to stop living through her children so she can be there for them.
At a prestigious (and fictional) private preschool in the San Gabriel Valley, prejudice and exclusivity are common currencies among parents who live vicariously through their children’s accomplishments. In the middle of the fray is Meg Norton, whose son Charlie just doesn’t fit in.
Charlie’s diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome, a high-functioning form of autism that affects social skills rather than language faculty, forces Meg to reexamine her priorities and ask not what Charlie can do for her, but what she can do for Charlie — and for herself.
“Living Through Charlie” is inspired by Woods’ own life — she has a two grown daughters with learning disabilities, one of whom has Asperger’s, and is a former private school and special education drama teacher — but it’s not based on actual events.
“My life and my children’s lives weren’t that horrible, but frankly, that’s not that interesting to read,” Woods says. “I kind of needed to horribilize everything to make a point.”
And what might that point be?
That parents shouldn’t depend so directly on the talents and accomplishments of their children, and might reconsider using their children to compete against one another. Woods says it’s especially easy for private school parents to get caught up in the rat race of being the best.
“We have this weird thing, where we try to compete with each other based on what our kids are doing. You’ve got the sticker on the car, the license plate holder. These become our identities,” she says. “To be an advocate and a cheerleader for your child, you need to have your own life. This is not a job for your child to do.”
Rebecca Woods discusses and signs her book “Living Through Charlie” at 4 p.m. Sunday at Vroman’s Bookstore, 695 E. Colorado Blvd., Pasadena. Call (626) 449-5320 or visit