A Californian polio survivor shares memories of her challenging but fulfilling life in this debut memoir.
Falk-Allen remembers being what she refers to as a “normie”—“what the ‘crip’ community…calls non-disabled people.” Her memoir opens with her as a toddler in 1950, running carefree down West 109th Street in the Westmont neighborhood of Los Angeles. This was her last memory of running; at 3 years old, she contracted spinal polio, causing paralysis of her right leg. Doctors said that she’d be in a wheelchair for the rest of her life. Falk-Allen recounts her two weeks in quarantine, which was followed by six months in a rehab center that felt like imprisonment. She began physical therapy and, contrary to her doctor’s initial prognosis, was able to learn how to walk with assistance from crutches and a leg brace. But after she was released, she faced new adversity as she tried to assimilate as a “normie.” She charts her growing interest in boys, her high school fascination with rock ’n’ roll during the mid-1960s, her time as a co-ed at San José State University and the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland, and her development into a confident young woman. Along the way, the author shares many painful memories; as a child, she says, she was injected with a muscle relaxant every day for 180 consecutive days, which resulted in her becoming “permanently needle-averse.” But she recalls her difficulties with unflinching prose, and her directness and dry humor are captivating: “I have never felt I had the choice to Scarlett O’Hara my experience (‘I’ll think about that later’).” Some readers may interpret this candor as overly abrupt, or even unfunny; the author is aware of this possibility, but she knows her target audience: “if you are a fan of Monty Python, I ask you to remember the irony of the song, ‘Always Look on the Bright Side of Life’—sung while Brian was being crucified—as you read on.” Overall, this is a frank, no-nonsense account of living with a disability edged with a razor-sharp wit.
Bold, charming, and inspirational.