The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius

  • by Kristine Barnett
  • Narrated by Kathe Mazur
  • 10 hrs and 31 mins
  • Unabridged Audiobook

Publisher's Summary

Kristine Barnett’s son Jacob has an IQ higher than Einstein’s, a photographic memory, and he taught himself calculus in two weeks. At 9 he started working on an original theory in astrophysics that experts believe may someday put him in line for a Nobel Prize, and at age 12 he became a paid researcher in quantum physics. But the story of Kristine’s journey with Jake is all the more remarkable because his extraordinary mind was almost lost to autism. At age 2, when Jake was diagnosed, Kristine was told he might never be able to tie his own shoes.
The Spark is a remarkable memoir of mother and son. Surrounded by "experts" at home and in special ed who tried to focus on Jake’s most basic skills and curtail his distracting interests - moving shadows on the wall, stars, plaid patterns on sofa fabric - Jake made no progress, withdrew more and more into his own world, and eventually stopped talking completely. Kristine knew in her heart that she had to make a change. Against the advice of her husband, Michael, and the developmental specialists, Kristine followed her instincts, pulled Jake out of special ed, and began preparing him for mainstream kindergarten on her own.
Relying on the insights she developed at the daycare center she runs out of the garage in her home, Kristine resolved to follow Jacob’s "spark" - his passionate interests. Why concentrate on what he couldn’t do? Why not focus on what he could? This basic philosophy, along with her belief in the power of ordinary childhood experiences (softball, picnics, s’mores around the campfire) and the importance of play, helped Kristine overcome huge odds.
The Barnetts were not wealthy people, and in addition to financial hardship, Kristine herself faced serious health issues. But through hard work and determination on behalf of Jake and his two younger brothers, as well as an undying faith in their community, friends, and family, Kristine and Michael prevailed. The results were beyond anything anyone could have imagined.
Dramatic, inspiring, and transformative, The Spark is about the power of love and courage in the face of overwhelming obstacles, and the dazzling possibilities that can occur when we learn how to tap the true potential that lies within every child, and in all of us.

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What the Critics Say

"The Spark is about the transformative power of unconditional love. If you have a child who’s ‘different’ - and who doesn’t? - you won’t be able to put it down." (Sylvia Nasar, author of A Beautiful Mind and Grand Pursuit)
"The Spark describes in glowing terms the profound intensity with which a mother can love her child." (Andrew Solomon, author of The Noonday Demon and Far from the Tree)
"Every parent and teacher should read this fabulous book!" (Temple Grandin, author of Thinking in Pictures and co-author of The Autistic Brain)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful

Interesting but Very Self-Serving

What did you like best about The Spark: A Mother's Story of Nurturing Genius? What did you like least?

The Spark was an interesting revelation of what the mind of an autistic child is capable of, and the need to reach them at their own level. I had several problems with it, mostly that I became very fed up with this woman's apparently bottomless capacity for self-congratulation. The book also risks giving parents of autistic children the impression that if they only try harder, their child can become a prodigy too. I did not finish the book, as after a while it provided no new information, just endless self-promotion.


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- Dr

Is It Okay to Like a Story, but Hate the Writing?

All the reviews I read elsewhere barred me out: masses of readers LOVED this story and could find no fault in it. They raved about the wisdom and enthusiasm and wonders of a mother who "discovered" that her autistic child was, in fact, a genius and helped him attain great feats. Quite a few HATED this story: they thought it was a lie, or an exercise in boasting and appeal for fame. I disagreed with all.

My reading of the book fluctuated between astonishment, excitement, doubt, boredom, and a wish that the amazing mother would have found a capable ghost writer. I personally concluded that the story is largely accurate, and that the accomplishments and admiral insights of a dedicated mother and child motivator are mostly legitimate. In reaction to the writing itself, I felt that her plethora of unwarranted adverbs stretch otherwise interesting events into the frayed fragility of an overstretched elastic, and that her repeated description of tragic hardships is delivered with mind-numbing heaviness. Crowning this tone is the narrator's monotonous, martyr-like voice, and the author's inability to bring important characters--such as Jake--to life. in other words, we readers are allowed to "see" nothing occur, but only be told, and told, and told a long series of events. I wanted this book to end long before it did, though I waded on in honor of the truths available.

There is a great deal of intellectual insight to be discussed--by those with merit--concerning the overall message of the author's book and the danger and hope available in examining the wisdom in some of the author's decisions as applied to autistic persons worldwide.

There were many events that had potential brilliance in their telling. I wish I could have found more of them.
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- E. Pearson "Occasional Thinker"

Book Details

  • Release Date: 04-09-2013
  • Publisher: Random House Audio