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by Emily Rapp
Bloomsbury USA, 2007
Review by Christian Perring on Sep 30th 2008

Poster Child

Emily Rapp was born in 1974 with a rare condition that meant that her left leg would never grow in proportion with her right.  Her doctors advised her parents to amputate the leg above the knee, and this operation was done when Emily was four years old.  She got used to body casts, but she never liked them.  She started wearing artificial legs, and so she started becoming familiar and strangely intimate with the people who made those legs, since they had to fit those legs to cause as little discomfort as possible.  The legs also had to fit the lifestyle that Emily and her parents saw for her, matching the level of activity she wanted.  Rapp relies so heavily on her leg, especially as she gets older and lives an independent life, that her relationship with her prosthetist is one of the most important in her life.  It's an aspect of living with disability that rarely gets discussed, and such details make Rapp's memoir compelling reading. 

One of the other aspects of the memoir that lingers in the memory is the contrast between the attitude of Rapp's parents and those of other family members and people in their wider circle.  While her parents saw her disability as a problem to be overcome, others saw it as a curse, or a condemnation by God.  Her mother especially was very sensitive to pitying or patronizing attitudes from others, and hated to be told how sorry they were for her misfortune.  Rapp found camaraderie with the war veterans who she met when she was going to have her prosthetic leg fitted or adjusted, and often enjoyed her ability to talk frankly about missing a limb and the experience of using an artificial limb.  Later in life she was pleased to make friends with other people with similar experiences to her, especially other women from whose experience she could learn. 

As a student, Rapp started to think about her disability more, and became interested in the relationship between theology and disability, writing a thesis on the role of disability in the Christian Bible.  She was an extremely successful student, and won a Fulbright scholarship.  She continued her academic career working in creative writing at several universities.  Her memoir is well-written, providing insight into her experience that one wouldn't get just from the major facts of her life.  She story shows how her identity and her feelings regarding her disability and her body gradually changed as she got older and became more independent.  This memoir will be especially interesting not only to people with disabilities, but also to those pursuing disability studies. 

© 2008 Christian Perring

Christian Perring, Associate Professor of Philosophy, Dowling College, New York.