Saturday, March 31, 2007

Over My Head by Claudia L. Osborn

Claudia Osborn loved being a doctor, but when a truck hit the bicycle she was riding, her life changed forever. This book recounts her injury and recovery/rehab, focusing on the rehab process which was, for her as a doctor, a particularly harrowing experience. I was amazed as she, time and again, somehow managed to get herself to her place of rehab, right in the middle of Manhattan, which, with all of its bustle, is a far cry from the ideal place for a person with brain injury. Osborn frankly writes of her inability to process her surroundings, her inability to remember processes that people without brain injuries take for granted like getting ready to go out for the day--showering and getting dressed--or buying groceries. In one memorable chapter, she thinks she has tissues in her pocket, only to, step by step, realize that what is in her pocket is the bra she was supposed to wear that day. It takes her five or six steps, including actually removing and uncrumpling the bra, to realize this. Osborn’s straightforwardness is, at times, unnerving.

As a memoir written by a person who suffered brain injury (most brain injury memoirs are written by parents or spouses), this book offers a unique and very readable perspective. Osborn, while she obviously loved the life she had, openly shares her process of learning to accept her new limitations and to reshape her life to accentuate her remaining and new skills.

Saturday, March 03, 2007

Better Than Running at Night by Hillary Frank

Better Than Running at Night is about an art student named Ellie and her attempt to create/define a relationship in terms of love, physical attraction, and sex. Her other pursuit—art—seems secondary and fairly effortless. Ellie is a normal college freshman; more so, perhaps, than her peers at art school (who go out of their way to be extremely weird), which serves to make her a more sincere narrator. The story itself, however, involves too much navel-gazing, which will be tiresome for readers older than the teen crowd the book is intended for. Ellie is a passive narrator, and her fellow characters remain pretty static from beginning to end, seeming more like the objects Ellie draws than characters. What compels the reader to keep going is merely to see how it ends, not any particular investment in the outcomes for any of the characters. But at least it does compel the reader to keep reading.

Ellie’s narrative voice is frank, and at times it's funny, even witty; when it is, her voice is similar to the narrator of Speak (by Laurie Halse Anderson). The short chapters also remind me of Speak, which may encourage readers with short attention spans to give this book a try. Also appealing to its teenage audience will be the steamy (but not smutty) sex scenes.

(Readers of this book should be in at least high school; the sexy parts would probably be a bit much for middle school readers, and I’m pretty sure most parents would be appalled to find their 7th or 8th graders reading this.)