TOTALED by Frances & Steven McGraw Rickett

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KIRKUS REVIEW

The hard-won rehabilitation of a severely brain-injured youth--in a poorly written novel which nevertheless delivers, TV-movie-style, some effectively tear-jerking and inspirational moments. The victim is cheerful New England teenager Christopher Reilly, who barely survives an auto accident (his two friends are killed) and spends the next weeks in a near-total coma. But Chris gets loving support from parents, from sister and kid brothers, and (above all) from older brother Frank and girlfriend Laurie. It's Frank--a recent Notre Dame honors-grad with a bit of an identity crisis--who most vigorously refuses to accept the doctors' gloomy prognoses: helped by Laurie, he insists on round-the-clock sessions with emaciated, zombie-like Chris, at first just to elicit a hand-squeeze, a reaction (Chris cries when four-year-old brother Patrick talks to him over the phone), or a first spoken word (""Mommmmmmmmmmmmm""). Then, when still-half-paralyzed Chris is admitted to a rehabilitation center, Frank--now also helped by new love Anneliese, Chris' physical therapist--demands on supplementing the center's lackadaisical care (""Somebody has to become obsessed with curing him. Nobody here is""). And finally he brings Chris home, where a battery of therapists adds to the frustrating, up-and-down progress: Chris crawls, then manages a few walking steps for Christmas; his walk down the church aisle for Communion gets cheers; and even his right hand at last is forced into movement. Some crises arise, however, in the over-involvements of Chris' helpers: Laurie is possessively shrill, is partly motivated by her own family situation (a sister with cerebral palsy), eventually alienates Chris; and Frank, an aspiring actor, must realize that he's using his devotion to Chris (which turns Anneliese off) to delay his leaving home for the frightening world of New York theater. Neither of these two character-problems is very convincing, and a spot of action (black-belt karate champ Frank gets tough with some punks at a bowling alley) seems crudely tacked on. But the medical detailing is clear and believable (Rickett wrote An Affair of Doctors, 1975); and the basic situation is so loaded with emotional grab that, despite maudlin prose and a lack of atmosphere or texture, this good-natured, based-on-a-true-story novel will interest--and occasionally move--a good many readers.

Pub Date: Aug. 5th, 1981
Publisher: Morrow