This is an interesting memoir, though not a great one. Emily Rapp was born in Nebraska in 1974 with a birth defect that caused one leg to be shorter than the other. Untreated, her legs would have stayed at the same length ratio as they grew, so instead she went through multiple operations as a young child. Her left foot was ultimately amputated so that she could wear a prosthetic leg, which she did from age five. This memoir focuses on her disability and how it affected her young life: it ends when she’s 24, though she was 33 by the time it was published.
It is a vulnerable memoir, as the author talks a lot about her feelings about her disability at various stages of her life. She’s also open about having been a spoiled brat as a child (even torturing small animals) and a bit of a bully in middle school. She’s very insecure about her leg, especially in adolescence and young adulthood, and worries a lot about being ugly or seen as “less than” by others; she becomes an academic overachiever and an expert skier and develops an eating disorder in high school, in what she views as a way of compensating for having a body she hates. It can’t have been easy to expose her insecurities and weaknesses on the page, and I think reading this book is a valuable experience for the way it lets readers inside her head.
That said, I don’t think it was a great book. It spends a lot of time on mundane details related to Rapp’s prosthetics: how they worked, what her prothetists’ offices were like and where they were located and how well she liked their locations and receptionists. It also seems to end a little too soon: her personal journey wasn’t over at 24, and there’s no epilogue about what she did after the main story ended. She even references at one point sticking with lovers too long after she’s let them see her stump, but this never comes up again; by the end of the book she still hasn’t been able to bring herself to take off her prosthetic for sex, and all these bad relationships aren’t included.
But I think perhaps the biggest reason this memoir isn’t my favorite is that the author lives an ordinary American middle-class life, with the “action” of the story almost entirely inside her head. Wearing a prosthetic (especially with the technology available during her childhood) was clearly not fun – it caused sores and even bleeding, especially if not adjusted properly – but fortunately it didn’t prevent her from being active and even athletic. She goes on to college, parties hard, studies abroad, all normal stuff. She apparently only gets picked on for her disability a couple of times as a kid, and only gets a couple of negative reactions as an adult. Despite all her worries about finding a man, she attracts male interest starting in middle school. I’m glad that she didn’t face more external obstacles, but the result is that much of the book is a chronicle of her angst. I don’t blame her for it and think it’s worth reading because lots of people with disabilities seem to share her fears and insecurities, but the story of her life is still a bit mundane.
And you need a fantastic writer to write a great book about mundane events. Rapp is a good writer – the language is fluid and always readable, leading me to read the whole thing fairly quickly, and she does a good job of recreating scenes from her life – but she isn’t a fantastic one. I’m glad to have read this book, and it will likely be helpful for many people, but it isn’t one I plan to recommend widely.