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Adjusting to the Lights

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In Adjusting to the Lights, Tom C. Hunley explores his relationship with his two special needs children: a daughter adopted out of foster care as a teenager, who has borderline intelligence and whose life choices are heavily influenced by her past abuse and neglect; and a son who has autism and continues to be a mystery and an inspiration to his father. Hunley’s struggle t In Adjusting to the Lights, Tom C. Hunley explores his relationship with his two special needs children: a daughter adopted out of foster care as a teenager, who has borderline intelligence and whose life choices are heavily influenced by her past abuse and neglect; and a son who has autism and continues to be a mystery and an inspiration to his father. Hunley’s struggle to parent his children is our struggle to relate to those among us who are different and discounted by society. Poems express his joy, frustration, fear, pain and triumph in parenting, and also the ways that Hunley falls short and becomes broken himself as shown through the cracked mirror of these children.


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In Adjusting to the Lights, Tom C. Hunley explores his relationship with his two special needs children: a daughter adopted out of foster care as a teenager, who has borderline intelligence and whose life choices are heavily influenced by her past abuse and neglect; and a son who has autism and continues to be a mystery and an inspiration to his father. Hunley’s struggle t In Adjusting to the Lights, Tom C. Hunley explores his relationship with his two special needs children: a daughter adopted out of foster care as a teenager, who has borderline intelligence and whose life choices are heavily influenced by her past abuse and neglect; and a son who has autism and continues to be a mystery and an inspiration to his father. Hunley’s struggle to parent his children is our struggle to relate to those among us who are different and discounted by society. Poems express his joy, frustration, fear, pain and triumph in parenting, and also the ways that Hunley falls short and becomes broken himself as shown through the cracked mirror of these children.

30 review for Adjusting to the Lights

  1. 4 out of 5

    Alarie

    Another Rattle chapbook prize winner, another 5-star review, yet each collection has a distinct personality. I adore quiet, slice-of-life poetry. That’s what this would be if Hunley had a quiet life. As his blurb says, he and his wife have “raised four children, two of whom provided the material for this book.” This is intense reading and will make most readers want to nominate Hunley for awards in good parenting or courage. His poems alternate between the two children with needs, but very diffe Another Rattle chapbook prize winner, another 5-star review, yet each collection has a distinct personality. I adore quiet, slice-of-life poetry. That’s what this would be if Hunley had a quiet life. As his blurb says, he and his wife have “raised four children, two of whom provided the material for this book.” This is intense reading and will make most readers want to nominate Hunley for awards in good parenting or courage. His poems alternate between the two children with needs, but very different needs aside from love, patience, and understanding. He adopted the girl at age 16 and a half, after she’d endured a heroin-addict mom and abuse by her mom’s partners. Tender, caring love is new to her, so she mistakes sex for “he cares about me.” His son is autistic, easily startled and frustrated by life around him, which can make him explode with anger and profanity. Strangers yell at his son and at him for not teaching his son better manners. For many of us, this is captivating poetry. For those with children of special needs, it may provide helpful insights or at least the pleasure of hearing from someone who gets what they’re going through. There’s tenderness under all the worry, even wry humor as in this poem’s title: “Buddy the Elf Is Acting like an Autistic Person, My Son Says with a Laugh." This book was so intense, that I broke it into 3 reads, while I often fly straight through a good chapbook. “To Mellow His Meltdown” was one of the poems that made me set the book down for awhile to recover: “…his mom and I worry about what happens next year when he gets his driver’s license if his tail light goes out and the blue cop-light swirls in his eyes and the siren rings in his ears and the officer says, Put your hands up, and our son reaches for his ID in his Batman wallet, swaying, cursing at the officer who doesn’t know…”

  2. 5 out of 5

    Elizabeth Wolf

    Another excellent chapbook. As a parent and ex- foster care caseworker I was immediately drawn in. Perfectly captures the struggle and the love and the boundaries (or lack thereof). I went through the poems again, looking for the perfect quote to illustrate this collection but there are so many. Forget this review. Go read the book.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Jimmy

    I opened up the chapbook and could not stop reading. Almost as good as another Rattle chapbook: Falling off the Empire State Building.

  4. 5 out of 5

    G.G.

    I’ll say it. This was the best book of poetry I’ve read this year. With a week left in the dumpster fire that was 2020, a stack of poetry books next to my bed, and a prolific reading habit I still feel confident in this assertion. In my opinion, great art—like great poetry—should make you squirm a little bit. It should make you think. It should make you uncomfortable with the reality you’ve been soaking in. It should make you want to get a different vantage point and reassess. This chap book did I’ll say it. This was the best book of poetry I’ve read this year. With a week left in the dumpster fire that was 2020, a stack of poetry books next to my bed, and a prolific reading habit I still feel confident in this assertion. In my opinion, great art—like great poetry—should make you squirm a little bit. It should make you think. It should make you uncomfortable with the reality you’ve been soaking in. It should make you want to get a different vantage point and reassess. This chap book did this and more. I am indebted to Rattle for continuing to bring excellent and fresh poetry right to my doorstep. As an introvert under quarantine this is a major boon. We are all indebted to Tom for his brave and beautiful work.

  5. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bergman

    This is the best book I've read all year. The writing is vulnerable and sincere. Clear and unapologetic, searching and guiding. The book finds us in our terrible and glorious imperfections, our hopes and tragedies and our noblest failures. I don't often do reviews here because I'm usually happy to keep my thoughts between myself and whichever book I've read, but as the cliche goes, when you love something you gotta say it out loud. This is the best book I've read all year. The writing is vulnerable and sincere. Clear and unapologetic, searching and guiding. The book finds us in our terrible and glorious imperfections, our hopes and tragedies and our noblest failures. I don't often do reviews here because I'm usually happy to keep my thoughts between myself and whichever book I've read, but as the cliche goes, when you love something you gotta say it out loud.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Ash Rocketship

    This is poetry for Autism Speaks parents and people who adopt to play savior and, were that not enough, it's real bad poetry, too. God help this man's children and students. This is poetry for Autism Speaks parents and people who adopt to play savior and, were that not enough, it's real bad poetry, too. God help this man's children and students.

  7. 4 out of 5

    Michelle Goff

    I read this collection in 28 minutes, and felt emotions so deep I cried. I’m still crying. I think children should read this and realize how much their parents love them. Especially their dads. Also, as a writer of poetry, I badly want to meet this man. Maybe go to a workshop run by him. This is what I’ve been trying to do with my poetry, and feel like I’m missing. I’d enjoy hearing about his process.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Kelly Thomas

    Touching and poignant.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Nancy

    Accidentally read immediately, which speaks to how these poems say hey, here's my world: a child with autism and a daughter adopted when she was 16. Reads like a good documentary feels. Accidentally read immediately, which speaks to how these poems say hey, here's my world: a child with autism and a daughter adopted when she was 16. Reads like a good documentary feels.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Tania

    This chapbook is stunningly powerful, honest, and humanizing, hitting me at the core of my parenting soul.

  11. 4 out of 5

    Chrissy

    Brilliant and moving poetry. I was so grateful to receive this copy with my Rattle sub. Excellent work!

  12. 4 out of 5

    David Anthony Sam

    Heartfelt and honest poetry that is admirable for that.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Shuly

    Loved this collection from start to finish. Heartbreaking and deep and beautiful.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Tom C.

    I may be biased, but I dug it.

  15. 4 out of 5

    Aaron Hand

    No idea how this book was published in 2020. The poems about his daughter are gross and as someone who was adopted, I'd be so disgusted to read poems by my parents like this. No idea how this book was published in 2020. The poems about his daughter are gross and as someone who was adopted, I'd be so disgusted to read poems by my parents like this.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Svetlana Sterlin

    A palpable, poignant, and beautifully touching tribute to parenthood and family. The imagery in this collection is crafted with such elegance and poise, and the words really leap off the page. Undoubtedly one of my favourite poetry collections of the year.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Tameca

  18. 4 out of 5

    Agnes Marton

  19. 5 out of 5

    Ian O.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Karen

  21. 4 out of 5

    Dan Simmons

  22. 5 out of 5

    Jawanza

  23. 4 out of 5

    Annette Boehm

  24. 4 out of 5

    Kent Winward

  25. 5 out of 5

    James

  26. 4 out of 5

    Nathan

  27. 4 out of 5

    Mark Danowsky

  28. 4 out of 5

    Maria Berg

  29. 4 out of 5

    Jennifer

  30. 4 out of 5

    Antonia

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