A debut work of creative nonfiction about the daunting challenges of higher education and the power of perseverance.
Law school is infamously challenging, and Burnside’s experience was no exception. In the fall of 2002, he matriculated into the Appalachian State Law School in rural Virginia, an unheralded institution that hadn’t even officially received its accreditation at the time. Burnside had unfortunately scored low on his LSAT, though, and so he wasn’t exactly a hotly recruited candidate. His first semester was, to put it mildly, inauspicious; his grades were so low that he narrowly missed expulsion and landed precariously on academic probation. Instead of surrendering to unhappy odds, though, the author experienced a conversion of sorts and decided to apply himself to his studies with renewed vigor. He broke up with his beautiful girlfriend, lost many of his other friends, devoted himself unreservedly to his course work, and slowly started to show improvement. He also encountered many obstacles, some of them shocking. A disgruntled student with a gun, for example, showed up on campus and started shooting, murdering the dean and a professor before he was tackled to the ground. An errant mountain blast forced Burnside to vacate his apartment, causing him to find a quiet refuge for study at a Comfort Inn. Even poison ivy hobbled him. It’s no surprise that the author frequently employs the metaphor of war to describe his tormented attempt at reform: “My Appalachian War continued—and I knew exactly where my enemy was.” Readers will know the cheerful outcome from the beginning: Burnside becomes a licensed lawyer in two states and has a successful career as an attorney. This takes the suspense out of the tale but not its principal power as an account of indomitability in the face of adversity. The prose is informal and unpretentious and will keep readers engaged throughout. Some of the story, the author confesses, is fictionalized, including “much of the dialog and some of the characters,” which is an odd choice, given how dramatic the unvarnished truth is on its own. Nonetheless, this will be an inspirational tale for lawyers and nonlawyers alike.
An engaging story of success, as told by a man who refused to quit.