Summer reading review: Karen and With Love From Karen

These books are directly related to my quest to research cerebral palsy, a disability I have, and chronicle my journey to whole health. With discipline, hopefully I will lose weight, return to strength training and someday pursue my longstanding goals of running a 5K and hobbying as a body builder.

Below please find my original interactions from the first memoir, Karen, by Marie Killilea: Starting the Karen Books.

As I said then, I thought this memoir would be about Karen. And her struggles with cerebral palsy. A condition no one knew anything about at the time.

Now this is not a complaint, but the book is about advocating for a child with cerebral palsy and Marie Killilea’s struggles as a mother— a mother with a history of pregnancy loss, devout Catholicism, children both precocious and sickly.

Karen is merely a two dimensional figure in the background. And the book chronicles many of Karen’s tribulations (limiting fluids to 20 ounces a day to prevent seizures and reduce spasticity, sores and discomfort from what would now be seen as barbaric full-body braces, and despite her keen intellect being banned from school) as well as her developmental triumphs.

The book ends with one such celebratory moment.

In the passage photographed above, Karen tries to navigate a hill. Mrs. Killilea never quiet explains where she was going— to the house? Away from it? Karen throws her crutches down the hill, rolls, retrieves her crutches, falls several times trying to get up, while her family watches and records it on a neighbor’s home movie camera.

This is one of those moments touted as bastions of independence. But how many times do you want someone fall without at least asking if they want help? And this is solely my opinion and my experience, but I hate seeing myself on video. The camera makes the “wrongness” of the cerebral palsy body more exaggerated and severe. Her parents want to record this moment in their Pride, but, to me, and again this is my opinion, to rewatch such a moment is to buy tickets to the freak show.

This family had inordinate health struggles with all of there children and the work Mrs. Killilea did to benefit cerebral palsy research made the world grow exponentially. And I am grateful.

But as I study the first chapter of Mrs. Killilea’s sequel memoir, With Love From Karen, it leaves me feeling that Karen’s condition has led to a 1952-best-selling book that has eased her family’s burdens, allowing them to buy a big, broken down Victorian house and given them a life line after a decade of medical bills for all their children.

I feel like Karen is exploited. Especially upon hearing that the whole family appeared in Time magazine.

Also I note Mrs. Killilea’s writing style has improved. The sentences flow with more artsy grammar and word choice. The description is more detailed. The verb choice strong.

Does she have an editor working for her now?

Bean, the 50-plus pound mastiff mutt puppy, and I are in the hammock. I hope this book presents Karen as a person, not an accessory.

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