This reflective memoir offers an unsentimental account of personal triumph in the face of disability.
Debut author Reis uses a 58-day bicycle trip from Oregon to Virginia as a vehicle to journey backward in time and recount his early life. He was born with hand and facial deformities, and he tells a tale of growing up unique, yet not beautiful, in a family that made it difficult to cope with being different. He writes with grit and humility, never sugarcoating or sentimentalizing his story; for example, as he reflects tenderly on his teacher, Gramma, he notes, “I was ugly, I was unlovable, and I had no self-worth. The world was not a kind and loving place. But in Gramma’s class, I became somebody. She didn’t see my hand or my crooked face.” Without ever explicitly stating his emotions, the author conveys his love and gratitude for the people who made his childhood more bearable. Parallel to his story of the past, the author tells of bicycling across the continent, fighting freezing weather, storms and steep climbs along the way. Black-and-white photographs depict a young, adventurous traveler, and his story weaves between his determination to continue despite physical obstacles and his struggle to find resolve amid a history of hardship. The author writes in a witty, detail-rich narrative style that feels more like a conversation than a memoir, and as he propels forward at 85 miles per day, he reflects on poignant realizations about his life. In one passage, he engagingly looks back on his education career, in which he’s taught thousands of students; the act of teaching, he writes, is “as though I throw a rock into the glassy surface of the lake and watch the ripples move slowly across to the distant shore.” Reis demonstrates how one can heal oneself by helping and guiding others.
A well-paced memoir about the author’s climb toward success and self-awareness.