I'm somewhat embarrassed to admit this, but the main reason I decided to read this book was because of Gretchen Rubin's endorsement. (You know, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project?) When I read her praise of the book, I believed it. Usually I pick books because the plot sounds interesting or the cover is beautiful or a friend has recommended it. But I think this is the first time an author recommendation, that they get paid to write, actually convinced me to read a book. I guess those book marketers know what they're doing.
That's not to say my interest wasn't piqued when I originally saw that Stephanie Nielson's memoir was out. Like most Mormon moms, I knew who Stephanie Nielson was and had even looked at her blog a couple of times. But I never got pulled in, and I was never a faithful reader. (But, um, if it says anything, since finishing the book, I haven't missed a post.)
For those few of you who haven't heard of Stephanie Nielson, let me bring you up to speed. In 2005, Stephanie started a blog (NieNie Dialogues). It was mainly a way to stay connected with family and friends while they were living across the country, but it soon gained widespread popularity. It was an uplifting blog to read because Stephanie loved her children and husband so much. That, in and of itself, is probably not enough of a story for a memoir, but in 2008, Stephanie and her husband, Christian, were in a terrible private plane crash. Christian was burned over 30% of his body, and Stephanie was burned over 80%. She was in a medically induced coma for three months. Once she woke up, she had to relearn how to do all things physical. She's undergone countless surgeries and deals with pain on a daily basis. All of that is memoir-worthy material, for sure.
In spite of my original hesitation, I loved Stephanie's story. The first third, which was life before the plane crash, was interesting but also made me want to roll my eyes in more than a few places. I know it was set up so the contrast between life before and after the crash would be even more stark, but it seemed so idyllic to the point of seeming shallow (although after looking through her blog archive, it seems that it was a fairly accurate portrayal).
But after the plane crash, the book gained insight and purpose for me. I admire and respect Stephanie for writing in such an honest and forthright way. Surely it must have been difficult to relive so many dark days where hope seemed a far off thing. Parts of the recovery might have seemed repetitive except that the repetition made the experiences and tediousness of recovery feel real and therefore easier to relate to.
The book ends with so much hope for the future. In April, Stephanie gave birth to a healthy baby girl, which I think is an amazing testament not only to the capablities of the human body but also the resiliancy of the human spirit. Even though there will continue to be challenges and trials as a result of this accident, life will go on, and as Stephanie said so many times, there will be many moments of happiness.
Stephanie is very open (both on her blog and in her memoir) about her faith in God. She is Mormon and does not attempt to separate her beliefs from her writing (which would have been near impossible, as far as I could tell). I appreciated how easily church and faith and the Savior were intertwined throughout the story, but I am curious how it read to those not of the LDS faith. I felt like she tried to explain things as needed but wonder if it seemed like too much or too little to people with little exposure to the Church. For example, going back to Gretchen Rubin, what were her thoughts on that aspect of the memoir? I know from The Happiness Project that she herself does not subscribe to any religion, so I wonder what her thoughts were on that?
In the epilogue, Stephanie says this about her experience: [The] cornerstones of faith, family, and community were the framework of my life before the accident, and I thank God that they were strong enough to support me afterward, too. When the worst happened, that foundation withstood tremendous pressure but didn't collapse. Quite the opposite: it carried me...
I love this image, and it gives me hope that in my own life, when my own storms and tribulations come, if I have held fast to those things which are truly important, then I will be able to make it to the other side, too.
I borrowed this book from my sister-in-law, Sonja.