PHOTO: Author Jim Kokoris and his own son, Andrew, in a family photo. | COURTESY JIM KOKORIS
When the book “It’s. Nice. Outside.” by Jim Kokoris (St. Martin’s Press, $24.99) showed up in the mail, I thought, well, that’s an interesting title. Wonder what it means.
It didn’t take long to figure it out. Just a few pages in readers see that’s the same halting manner in which Ethan speaks. He is the son of the novel’s protagonist, John Nichols. Before his first birthday Ethan was gived a diagnosis of trisomy 9 mosaicism and later, mild autistism.
Kokoris doesn’t go into a long, clinical description of what that all means. Instead, he wraps it up in one heartbreaking sentence: “All I knew was my only son, my youngest baby, would never be normal.”
The book begins with Ethan, who is now 19, and dad John embarking on a car trip from Chicago to South Carolina where oldest sister Karen is getting married. You read John’s descriptions of the challenges of Ethan and his unpredictable behavior — happening now not in a toddler, by a full-grown adult — and you think, well a car trip, that’s probably a good idea.
Photo courtesy St. Martin’s Press
Or maybe not.
With Ethan, so much is not simple. Like a stubborn 2-year-old, he wants to do things when he wants to do them — which generally means NOW — and despite valiant efforts by John to distract him, there often is no reasoning with him. That means they are traveling at a snail’s pace, making the family awaiting them in South Carolina — besides the bride-to-be, John’s not-so-ex-wife Mary and daughter Mindy — question this traveling decision.
There’s another decision that John’s made, but he’s not sharing the details of that until he gets to their destination and the whole family is together. As the road trip unfolds, readers are quickly turning pages trying to figure out what John is planning. And what’s he going to do about that constant caller who keeps his cellphone buzzing?
I hope I am not making the book sound dreary, because it certainly is not. Kokoris’ talents as a humor writer shine throughout “It’s. Nice. Outside.” There are some absolutely hilarious moments — John giving voice to Ethan’s beloved stuffed bears for one — as well as such tender ones.
John may be weary from the demands, but you never doubt for a moment his love and devotion to Ethan. That love, as well as the frustration and sometimes resentment that bubble up within this family — who so often has no choice but to revolve around Ethan’s needs, even when they themselves are in crisis — come through so eloquently. The conversations and emotions all sound so real and honestly raw. And let me say again, the action unfolds often in a very funny manner.
“It’s. Nice. Outside.” is a fast-paced read and I promise you will enjoy all the characters (well, maybe not Roger). There is a realness in this work of fiction that is due to the person the book is dedicated to: Kokoris’ own 19-year-old son, Andrew, who is autistic.
In press materials, Kokoris does say Ethan is based on Andrew and much of “It’s. Nice.Outside.” is a memoir of challenging times for the family.
Author Jim Kokoris ~ FOTIO
Kokoris lives in the Chicago area. He will be talking about the book at some upcoming events: 7 p.m. Friday (Dec. 4) at Anderson’s Bookshop, 26 S. La Grange Road, La Grange, and at 7 p.m. Tuesday (Dec. 8) at The Book Stall, 811 Elm St., Winnetka.