This terrific debut from Jennifer Latson, a journalist, takes up the story of Eli and his mom, Gayle, when Eli is 12 years old. Any parent will recognize the factors in play: hormones, parental expectations for school, concerns about bullying, and so on. The multiplier effect for Gayle is her son’s genetic disorder, known as Williams syndrome. Since Williams amps up the oxytocin in Eli’s system, making him love everyone indiscriminately, Gayle has to teach her son skills that run counter to his nature—but that may keep him safe. Eli’s slowed development and stiff joints mean that complete independence from his mother at any future point is unlikely. Gayle, a single mom, confides, “I want him to live a long, happy life. I just want to be there for him…. If I could live just five minutes longer than he does, I’d be happy.” The author skillfully interweaves the science—what we do and don’t know about genetic disorders such as Williams—with a powerful story line. Eli and especially Gayle are beautifully drawn, and their struggles with an unknown future are both unique to their situation and universal to all parents. As the book’s perspective deliberately pans out to include teachers, counselors, family, friends, and, finally, Eli’s entire eighth-grade class, Latson delivers some unforgettable lessons about inclusion and parenthood. (June)

Jennifer Latson. Simon & Schuster, $26 (304p) ISBN 978-1-4767-7404-6

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