Life As We Know It

by Michael Bérubé

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Last Updated on October 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

Life As We Know It is a work of nonfiction about Down syndrome. In particular, it focuses on the author’s son James (often called Jamie), who is born with this syndrome. Because of the subject matter, the characters in this book are primarily framed in terms of their relationship to Jamie.

Michael Bérubé

Michael Bérubé, the author, is a scholar of American and African American literature at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. He is an academic, and the tone and content of the book reflect this. Michael endlessly considers the future and status in the world of his disabled son, Jamie. But when he and Jamie are alone together, these concerns evaporate; he sees his son as a typical child, a marvelous child. Michael says, “As long as I am with him I can’t think of him as anything but Jamie.”

Janet Lyon

Janet is Michael’s “wife and general partner.” She is James and Nick's mother and teaches British literature and women’s studies. Before that, she worked as a cardiac intensive care nurse. When doctors propose invasive medical procedures for her young son, Janet’s medical expertise enables her to credibly oppose these risky interventions. Janet and Michael can be a “gratuitously contentious” couple, disagreeing often. But in caring and advocating for their disabled son, they are a united front and do not complain or argue with one another. From the moment Jamie is born, Janet insists, “We can handle this together.”

Nick Lyon Bérubé

Nick is Michael and Janet’s oldest son and Jamie’s only sibling. Nick is five years old when Jamie is born. The author notes, “The most important thing about the house into which Jamie was born, however, is that it already contained Nick.” Nick is a gifted child, scoring exceptionally high on nationwide intelligence tests. His behavior, personality, and milestones are cited often as a point of comparison to Jamie’s.

Bud and Sarah

Bud and Sarah are Janet’s brother and sister-in-law, respectively. They appear as minor characters in the book.


Trevor is the healthier of Bud and Sarah’s prematurely-born twin sons. Despite being better off than his twin, Trevor still has to spend several weeks in the hospital when he is born.

Dashiell “Dash”

Dash is Bud and Sara’s other twin son, who requires prolonged medical intervention even after a lengthy stay in the neonatal intensive care unit.


Amanda is described as a “steadfast family friend,” although she is much more like a family member. She provides extensive support in caring for Jamie and his family, including taking classes that enable her to provide specialized care.

James “Jamie” Lyon Bérubé

Jamie is Michael and Janet’s youngest son. The memoir begins with the endearment “My little Jamie,” immediately establishing both the father’s affection for his son and that Jamie will be central to this story. Jamie is born with Down syndrome, a fact his parents were unaware of before his birth. He also has a host of physical medical problems, requiring lengthy hospitalization and ongoing home-based medical support. As Jamie grows, he requires significant physical, medical, occupational, and social support. From beginning to end, Jamie is portrayed as an unequivocally beloved and wanted child.

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