Sachiko’s trials continues in volume 5 as Hikaru moves into his final year in elementary school that comes with changes in both his teacher and classmates, neither of which he takes well, causing problems at home. Things only get harder when school administrators disagree with the family’s choice of junior high. In volume 6, Sachiko must deal with changes in Hikaru’s behavior, getting Kanon ready for elementary school, her mother-in-law who still doesn’t understand Hikaru, and her own mother’s falling ill. It’s a lot of stress for one woman to take.
It continues to be “two steps forward, one step back” for Sachiko as she struggles to get her son accepted by the people around her. A new teacher and Principal at school sets her back to square one with explaining Hikaru’s disabilities, neither of which are very sympathetic. Neither are the administrators who think Hikaru should be in a school for the disabled instead of the regular junior high with a program that Sachiko and Masato want. These are supposed to be people who understand the circumstances and should want what’s best for the student. Instead they all come off as not wanting to deal with it.
Things aren’t any better outside of school, as Sachiko has to deal with Japanese society’s obsession with politeness and appearance. Sachiko is constantly having to explain Hikaru’s actions and apologize for his perceived rudeness. Even his own grandmother, Masato’s mother, still can see past his disabilities and expects him to act like a normal child. She is constantly saying or thinking how embarrassed she is by Hikaru. Even Hikaru’s sister, Kanon starts to feel the pressure as she starts elementary school, and people remember how Hikaru used to act. There is no place for people with problems like Hikaru’s in such a society.
One of the things I really like about these volumes is that Hikaru and his problems weren’t the sole focus. In volume 5, two classmates are introduced who have different disabilities that aren’t as crippling as Hikaru’s , but are just as misunderstood, especially since they can’t generally be diagnosed at birth. The children are just seen as being difficult or lazy by both teachers and parents. Volume 6 spends very little time on Hikaru, and more on the growing responsibilities Sachiko has to deal with. When her mother is hospitalized, she has to help out her father who doesn’t know how do things like cook, or do laundry. So she has to balance helping him, with her other responsibilities. Even though Sachiko is always so positive and upbeat, even she can get worn down, and it does cause some problems between her and Masato.
I also really like how the story continues to follow some of Hikaru’s classmates, disabled or not. We continue to see Eri, a girl from Hikaru’s elementary school who comes from an abusive family, trying to deal with her own problems. We also see what happens to Tsubasa, one of the students in Hikaru’s class in 6th grade. I was kind of disappointed that nothing seemed to be done about Ryoto. There seemed to be a story there as well, yet we only get glimpses of his problem and parents reactions.
With the Light is a very compelling read. Once you start, it is difficult to put down. You might think a story about a disability like autism can’t be interesting, but Tobe creates characters and situations that are believable and sometimes very true, as they came from interviews with real parents of children with autism. It’s like a dramatization of real-life events. It also imparts a lot of information about autism, teaching while it entertains, which is a great way to learn. I highly recommend this title.