Customer Review

5.0 out of 5 stars Inspiring & interesting, July 2, 2012
This review is from: Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado (Paperback)
Randy Turner and John Hacker's "Spirit of Hope: The Year After the Joplin Tornado" is a follow-up of sorts to their book "5:41: Stories from the Joplin Tornado." Where "5:41" recounts the tragedy, "Spirit of Hope" explores the triumph of the city of Joplin's efforts to move forward and rebuild after the May 22, 2011 F-5 tornado that devastated the city. The book is a compilation of stories, articles, and dozens of photographs. It also includes transcripts of significant speeches given by President Obama and Missouri governor Jay Nixon at the 2011 memorial service for tornado victims and the 2012 Joplin High School graduation, and the final report on the tornado from the National Weather Service.

About half of the 58 chapters are first-hand accounts written by survivors, students, and volunteers. These include stories written by Rebecca Williams, whose daughter Genevive Williams created and managed the Joplin Tornado Info Facebook page that was crucial for providing information to the community in the aftermath of the disaster. It also featured a story from Rose Fogarty, one of the founding members of the volunteer organization St. Lou Crew for Joplin. Other chapters include the speeches made in Joplin by city manager Mark Rohr, Governor Jay Nixon, Joplin school superintendent CJ Huff, and talk show host Rush Limbaugh, at different milestones during the year following the tornado. But some of the most fascinating chapters are those written by the everyday folks, the ones who lost everything but their lives and found a way to move forward.

Most Americans remember exactly where they were, what they were doing, and who they were with during certain tragedies, like Kennedy's assassination or the September 11 attacks; the people of Joplin remember the details of May 22, 2011 in the same way. Andrea Queen wrote about how her family had spent the day going to church, visiting with her grandmother, and watching the Cardinals play the Royals into the 10th inning that Sunday. Not long after the game ended, she and her husband were throwing themselves over their sons to protect them from flying debris and falling tree limbs as the tornado tore through their neighborhood. Rick Nichols was at IHOP, sights set on ordering a "Rise and Shine" breakfast platter, when he and his family had to take cover in the restaurant's kitchens. Rick wrote, "For a solid two to three minutes, our International House of Pancakes became the International House of Prayer as terrified customers and helpless employees alike pleaded with God to save them from the "monster" that was right on top of us." Jeff Wells had been in Joplin, visiting his mother, and was driving home to Texas under blue skies when he heard reports of the storm. He called his mother back at 5:37pm and told her to take cover in her bathtub just before the tornado demolished her home.

After May 22, everyone from Joplin had their own storm survival story, like the ones told by Andrea and Rick and Jeff. Turner and Hacker collected many stories like this for "5:41." What makes "Spirit of Hope" different is the way the stories continue on to tell how people were able to climb out of the rubble and eventually begin to clear out the destruction and focus on reconstruction. Despite living a few hours outside of Joplin, Rick recounted his experience returning to the disaster zone as a volunteer several times in the next year to help rebuild houses for different families. With help from the organization Samaritan's Purse, Jeff was able to clear out his mother's property and salvage 2000 of the original bricks from her home in the hopes of rebuilding someday.

The other chapters of "Spirit of Hope" feature the writing and photography of the book's authors, Randy Turner and John Hacker. Some of these articles were previously published elsewhere; this doesn't decrease their value in "Spirit of Hope." Both of the authors are lifetime area residents with a long history in journalism, and their journalists' perspectives provide a solid foundation for the other chapters of personal submissions. Turner is a teacher at one of Joplin's displaced middle schools and this put him in a unique position to observe directly how the tornado affected the lives of Joplin's students, as well as the school district's response to the disaster. Hacker's words and photographs work together to tell the story of the many steps Joplin has been taking towards healing and rebuilding, including coverage of the Unity Day walk on the one-year anniversary and the Joplin High School 2012 prom.

Together, all of these stories in "Spirit of Hope" are an incredible tribute to the work that has been and continues to be done in Joplin. The tornado claimed 161 lives, but it didn't shake the faith or resolve of the people. It destroyed homes and businesses, but it couldn't touch the community of Joplin. Joplin high school student Laela Zaidi summarized it well in one of her submissions: "The story of what took place on May 22nd will be told as one of resilience, human spirit, and what it truly means to not have a house, but rather a home shared with an entire community."

All in all: "Spirit of Hope" is an interesting and inspiring collection of stories and photos written by and about the people of Joplin and their efforts to rebuild their city. It's not a 200+ page picture book, and I count that as a positive. I definitely recommend reading it.
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