Born with grit and gumption, Paula Viale embraced life as a severely disabled child growing up in a not-so-enlightened small town of the fifties. "Polio, the A-Bomb and Me" chronicles her struggle to surmount the physical and psychological barriers of the able-bodied world with honesty and wry humor.
Viale graduated with a degree in English Literature/Creative Writing from Fullerton State University in Southern California. Joining the legion of fellow graduates with degrees in English Literature, she won a PBS training scholarship in public relations and marketing, working first at a PBS station in her hometown of Eureka and later as the marketing director of a hospital in Santa Rosa, California. She took an active role in the women’s movement of the sixties and seventies and served as an advocate for disability rights.
Viale is married to Rusty Jorgensen and the stepmother of two grown children. A diagnosis of post-polio syndrome in the late eighties resulted in her need to retire from the physically challenging work as a marketing consultant. She entered Sonoma State University, where she earned a degree in marriage, family and child therapy and was later licensed as a psychotherapist. Viale spent many happy years counseling families and children before retiring in 2011. She continues post-graduate studies at Sonoma State University and enjoys volunteering as a tutor to at-risk children in Santa Rosa.
Viale has written for newspapers, magazines and corporate newsletters. Polio, the A-Bomb and Me is her first full-length book of non-fiction.
“A surprisingly uplifting and moving depiction of courage in the face of a physically challenging childhood.”
– Kirkus Reviews
A survivor of a polio outbreak in California transports readers back to a time before the Salk vaccine rid the country of the scourge.
Debut author Viale was just 6 weeks old when she contracted polio in 1948 in Eureka, unusually young even for a disease that was often called infantile paralysis. Doctors doubted she would survive, much less regain any use of her arms and legs. Now, decades later, she shares the story of the first 18 years of her life, a period during which Viale used the muscular strength she developed, bolstered by indefatigable “gumption,” to propel her way to independence. She began by using her strong right leg to scoot herself across the floor on her back; when she wanted to get on the couch, she pulled down the seat cushion with her teeth to enable the climb. As a youngster, she suffered long separations from her family while she underwent a variety of experimental treatments and surgeries at the Shriners’ Hospital for Crippled Children in San Francisco. For months at a time she could see her parents only through a window. Feelings of isolation were compounded by her mother, who was physically undemonstrative and emotionally fragile. Viale’s memoir has the ingredients for a very depressing read. It is not. There is plenty of appropriate anger—toward her mother, the Shriners, and her disability—but shining through is the author’s unflagging determination to push her polio-afflicted body to the max. In her haunting and buoyant account, she describes trying to eat with a special spoon that her mother placed within her three usable fingers: “I hit my eye with the first bite, but my aim improved on the next try.” Individual vignettes sometimes skip around chronologically, creating a confusing timeline. But the stories are nonetheless delightfully evocative, as when she and her friends dug a trench in the yard to create a “fallout shelter” during the ubiquitous atomic bomb warnings in the 1950s.
A surprisingly uplifting and moving depiction of courage in the face of a physically challenging childhood.
Pub Date: Nov. 7, 2016
Page count: 272pp
Review Posted Online: May 1, 2017
Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 1, 2017
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