Synopses & Reviews
A rich and moving memoir of childhood illness and its aftermath by a member of the last generation of Americans to have experienced childhood polio
Just after her eleventh birthday, at the height of the frightening childhood polio epidemic, Susan Richards Shreve was sent as a patient to the sanitarium at Warm Springs, Georgia. It was a place famously founded by FDR, "a perfect setting in time and place and strangeness for a hospital of crippled children."
There the young Shreve met Joey Buckley, a thirteen-year-old in a wheelchair who desperately wants to play football for Alabama. The shock of first love and of separation from her fiercely protective mother propels Shreve on a careening course from Warm Springs bad girl to overachieving saint and back again. This indelible portrait of the psychic fallout of childhood illness ends -- like Tobias Wolff's Old School -- with a shocking collision between adolescent drive and genteel institution.
During Shreve's stay at Warm Springs, the Salk vaccine was developed, an event that put an end to a harrowing time for American families. Shreve's memoir is both a fascinating historical record of that time and an intensely felt story of childhood.
"Novelist Shreve recollects her years spent from ages 11 to 13 at Warm Springs Polio Foundation in Georgia: 'Traces are little whispers of life in muscles destroyed by the polio virus.' The traces of this eloquently written memoir, however, are not merely physical; they are the whispers of the time, brief glimpses into the social climate of the 1950s, into the religious longing of a lonely young girl hoping for a connection, into the mindset of the president who led the country despite a debilitating handicap. While the events take place as Shreve recovers from surgeries that would allow her to walk better, polio becomes a minor character; her friendships with the others in the facility, her innocent romance with a fellow patient and her growing attraction to the priest take center stage as she tries to make herself into a 'good' girl: 'I remember reading once,' she writes, 'about the strange attractor, a star that unsettles planetary balance, which was the role I seemed to play in our family life.' The writing of this beautifully told story is delicate and precise, even as she calls into question her own memories: 'we lived in a kind of maze, a finely spun fairy tale created by my parents in which some things were clear and some were fuzzy.... I assumed that what I saw was true. I didn't realize until I was older that seeing is a matter of choice.' (June)" Publishers Weekly (Copyright Reed Business Information, Inc.)
An indelible portrait of the fallout of childhood illness, separation from a protective mother, and first love, Shreve chronicles her stay at the Warm Springs sanitarium during the height of the polio epidemic. Her memoir is both a fascinating historic record and an intensely felt story of childhood.
Just after her eleventh birthday, Susan Richards Shreve was sent to the sanitarium at Warm Springs, Georgia. The polio haven, famously founded by FDR, was and#147;a perfect setting in time and place and strangeness for a hospital of crippled children.and#8221; During Shreveand#8217;s two year stay, the Salk vaccine would be discovered, ensuring that she would be among the last Americans to have suffered childhood polio.
At Warm Springs, Shreve found herself in a community of similarly afflicted children, and for the first time she was one of the gang. Away from her fiercely protective mother, she became a feisty troublemaker and an outspoken ringleader. Shreve experienced first love with a thirteen-year-old boy in a wheelchair. She navigated rocky friendships, religious questions, and family tensions, and encountered healing of all kinds. Shreveand#8217;s memoir is both a fascinating historical record of that time and an intensely felt story of childhood.
About the Author
SUSAN RICHARDS SHREVE has published thirteen novels, most recently A Student of Living Things. She is a professor of English at George Mason University and formerly cochair and president of the PEN/Faulkner Foundation. She has received several grants for fiction writing, including a Guggenheim fellowship and a National Endowment for the Arts award. Shreve lives in Washington, D.C.