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Just Don't Fall: A Hilariously True Story of Childhood, Cancer, Amputation, Romantic Yearning, Truth, and Olympic Greatness Paperback – Bargain Price, December 28, 2010
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From Publishers Weekly
Sundquist proves to be equally enthralling and witty at the written word in this sometimes heartbreaking, mostly uplifting memoir. Diagnosed with cancer at the age of nine, Sundquist eventually is forced to deal with the harsh reality of losing his left leg to amputation. Yet even at his young age, he deals with the setback with courage and determination, eventually setting his sights on becoming a ski racer at the 2006 Paralympics in Italy. While skiing becomes a large part of his life, his story is just as much about growing up in small-town Virginiaand, for example, dealing with common high school heartbreak. His dreams of a world ski racer are eventually met, because in his words, "I don't have time to fail". Some of his retelling of events at times seem over the top, but overall Sundquist is an honest and charming writer. And there are countless lighhearted anecdotes, like his desire to stop being homeschooled and attend public school partly for the pizza without whole-wheat crust. The final chapter provides a fitting conclusion to Sundquist's, proving that life is more about the journey than the destination.
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
Sundquist was diagnosed with a rare form of cancer as a nine-year-old and soon thereafter lost his leg to the disease. His dad was an aspiring minister and his mother a very conservative Christian who home-schooled her children. This first-person memoir relates his and his family’s struggle with the disease and his evolution into a young man who competed successfully in the 2006 Paralympics in Turin, Italy. Readers expecting an inspirational tale of faith, family, and determination in overcoming a devastating illness will not be disappointed. What will delight readers even more is the unexpected literary skill and absurdist humor employed by Sundquist to recount his journey. Particularly telling are his memories of the years when he was diagnosed and the period immediately after the amputation; his child’s-eye view of the proceedings is both heart-wrenching and laugh-out-loud funny. It’s those Sedaris-like observations—substituted for the overwrought seriousness that fuels many inspirational first-person accounts of adversity overcome—that make this a very special book. --Wes Lukowsky --This text refers to an alternate Paperback edition.
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The story itself is good enough, but Sundquist's writing style leaves a lot to be desired.
Personally having a great deal of formal and informal education in writing, I can't help but think that Sundquist's editors did him a disservice by allowing him such excessive creative freedom. The book, while chronological for the most part, is not divided into understandable sections and instead uses new chapters to signify the passage of time. This results in the narrator repeating time markers throughout the first few pages of every single chapter. This is irksome and distracting.
Sundquist narrates the book by channeling the age he was during the events of that section. By this I mean, when he is nine and learns he has cancer he is explaining the situation as though he is still nine. However, adults have a horrible time speaking the way we think we did as children, so for the majority of the time that Sundquist uses this technique it feels as though he is speaking down to his audience.
In conjunction with feeling spoken down to, he also describes, at length, everyday objects or situations. It is clear that he is trying to convey his innocence and the sheltered life that he lead as a child, however it's not well executed. There is no need to droll on for a page and a half about how he did not understand what a wine glass was and go into vague detail describing the glass' shape and structure. A simple, "and Dad had to explain that these things were wine glasses..." would have been more good enough. I feel that the story was twice as long as it is, purely for unnecessary detail and description.
Writing style aside, the last third of the book is disappointingly sparse. We spend the majority of the book learning Josh's struggle with cancer and personal acceptance, cheering him on through the pages only to get to the exciting climax of the book and... skip the climax.
We are preparing to see Josh's struggle to make the US Paralympics Ski Team, we see him cross the finish line as an unlikely victor, and then... we skip ahead past the other, more crucial races to help him qualify. Then after the opening ceremony to the Paralympics, we are rushed through every event. If the first two thirds of the book was filled with unwanted detail, the last third was missing desperately desired information. I wanted to see Josh succeed and discover himself through his skiing, but was left finishing the last page feeling sorry for a kid who seemed to be more lost and confused than ever before.
In the end I feel like this is a story of a boy who gets cancer, loses a leg, and replaces his limb with hubris. Though poorly written and challenging to read because of it, there are still beautiful moments in the book though they are few and far between. My advice: follow Josh on YouTube and pass on the book. He's a better speaker than a writer.
Sundquist narrates his life story (from early childhood to just after his experience with the Paralympics in Italy) with characteristic humor and optimism, and plenty of subtle surprises. For example, as the Josh in the story ages, Josh the author uses a more mature voice. The author always remains in the background, though, selecting just the right details for the reader to see the hilarious big picture. For example, when Josh of about ten years old is in the hospital after his amputation, a resident makes an embarrassing mistake and covers by claiming to be late for a meeting he just remembered. The reader has no doubt that the doctor is lying, and Josh the author gives enough information for us to be very clear on that point, but the young Josh in the story shares how there's a positive side to everything, and maybe even a really embarrassing moment can help you remember a meeting for which you were running late. It's a perfect blend of innocence and wisdom, and there is really no point in the book where Josh the author loses the perfect balance of that blend.
What I love the most about this inspirational book is that, despite the protagonist's aspirations as a motivational speaker, the book never really stoops to blatant attempts to inspire. Yes, Josh survives a serious battle with cancer, and he shares his story and heart with open hands, letting the reader choose what to take from the telling. Yes, Josh has some amazing romantic disasters, but he doesn't preach about relationship values - the reader just gets to share space with him as he struggles. Yes, Josh experiences impossible challenges as an amputee, but Josh the author has a remarkable sense for when his status as an amputee is relevant to a story and when he just needs to focus on how his unique personality brought about a certain turn of events. Yes, Josh the author seems to recognize the absurdity of many of the rules in his loving and strict homeschooling family, but he neither criticizes his parents nor admonishes the reader to accept or reject a certain kind of faith, even saving his own personal statement of faith for a gentle moment near the end of the book. This book really is an author telling his story in a powerful way to connect with readers, and I can recommend it (and Sundquist's YouTube channel) for anyone looking to be inspired with hope for humanity.