Radiance Descending
Paula Fox
Radiance Descending book cover Reviewed by: Emily Perl Kingsley

Radiance Descending is advertised as a book for 10-12 year-olds about a a "young boy taking the first steps towards understanding his younger brother who has Down syndrome." Unfortunately, after eading the book a couple of times, I found no evidence of those first steps - or any steps - toward understanding.
Sadly, the book lays out 101 pages of uninterrupted negativity, bitterness, resentment and actual loathing (directed towards Jacob, Paul's brother who has Down syndrome). It reinforces myriad negative stereotypes, never provides the reader any insight into the reasons for all the venom and never moves towards resolution, insight, or any level of acceptance (the "gradual acceptance" promised in your rather optimistic press release).
I had hoped, by the end, for perhaps some minimal appreciation ... or even, dare I say it, affection for Jacob ... but I would have settled, reluctantly, for the most embryonic awakenings of plain basic acceptance. But, unhappily, even that was nowhere to be found. It was certainly not manifest in the insignificant gesture of Paul's allowing his nose to be tweaked - in the very last paragraph of the book. I seriously doubt that a single nose-tweaking in the final sentence of the book will signify the beginning of Paul's emotional turnaround to your readers. It didn't to me.
Without helping the reader understand why, Paul's parents are portrayed as consistently unable or disinclined to be a support system for him or to help him work through his resolute unwillingness to relate to his brother who has Down syndrome. Even the sympathetic grandfather (an otherwise lovely character) seems willing to let seven whole years go by before he suggests that Paul deal with his problem. And when he does, finally, advise Paul that "it's time to give it up," he gives the poor kid no opportunity to express, examine or work through his seven years of unalterable animosity. Instead, Grandpa acknowledges that Jacob is "eerie," then drops the subject like a hot potato and gets the hell out of what might have been a nice moment of shared intimacy and possible enlightenment and growth.
Even the peculiar and unclear conclusion of the book, where the child with Down syndrome arrives at his own seventh birthday celebration (where there are no other children present, no friends his own age from the neighborhood) dressed in a very bizarre get-up (a clumsily-sewn unraveling gold robe with paper cups sticking out from his head and falling in his eyes, with dusting powder all over his face, etc.), gives an overall impression - not of Jacob's integrity, dignity or worth ... but of utter strangeness and differentness, as far as can be imagined from the kind of depiction of Down syndrome that we might hope for in literature. Not radiant at all, I'm afraid ... just weird.
All of this in the context of regressive and anachronistic detail (e.g., a child with Down syndrome who has never attended any school or program by age seven, has no interaction with other children, who is about to attend a separate segregated "special" school, etc., etc.) makes me feel very unhappy about this book going out to an audience of young readers who, if anything, need more accurate and positive information about Down syndrome and more encouragement and reasons to understand, accept and include their neighbors with developmental disabilities.
I urge all parents, teachers, and people concerned with promulgating up-to-date and positive information about Down syndrome to repudiate and avoid this dangerous book, Radiance Descending.