Genre: Memoir
Publication Date: 2007
Pages: 215
Support Your Local Library Challenge #24, The Southern Reading Challenge #2

I’m not normally a big memoir fan, but when I read this review at Maggie Reads I put this one on my TBR list. Since Warm Spirngs is in Georgia, I decided to include it for the Southern Reading Challenge.

“Traces are little whispers of life in muscles destroyed by the polio virus.” Susan Richards Shreve had polio when she was a baby and doesn’t have any real recollection of her life without paralysis in her right leg. But there were traces of life in those muscles so in 1950 eleven year old Susan went to stay at the Warm Springs Polio Foundation. She spent much of the next two years there undergoing surgery and therapy and for most of that time her parents and little brother remained in their Washington, DC home.

I was born after the introduction of polio vaccine, so I only know what I’ve read of how the epidemics impacted people. This memoir was quite interesting and although I hesitate to use the word enjoy for a story of an ordeal I cannot imagine going through as a child, I thought it was a very good book.

Shreve combines her own story with bits of history of Warm Springs and FDR, polio epidemics, and society in the forties and fifties. She was a very determined young girl who dreamed of the day she would leave Warm Springs completely healed. In retrospect she explores the sense she had that her illnesses put a burden on her family and the guilt she felt for that. She explores her complicated relationship with her mother. She also talks about happy (and sad) times visiting and helping in the babies ward at Warm Springs. Shreve grew up to become a novelist and her early development as a storyteller may be a result of her illnesses and also some of the motivation for her determination to succeed.

Although a loner, she developed some friendships with other children at Warm Springs, as well as important relationships with some of the nurses, doctors and the Catholic priest. Parts of this book are incredibly sad, and parts are remarkably triumphant. All in all an interesting look at a time and place that the polio vaccine has put firmly into the past.