by Christine Kehl O'Hagan


Kirkus Reviews (Best Books of 2005):

The writer "takes her heart and squeezes until it purely aches," we said in our December 2004 review of this extremely painful yet sharply poignant memoir. O'Hagan chronicles her attempts to help her son, Jamie, live with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. Her realization that Jamie will likely die in his 20s, and her subsequent decision to make him confront his mortality head-on--or, as she writes, "he shouldn't worry about how long, but instead, how deep"--is an astounding revelation. "Emotions come off the page like radioactive waves," we said. "Rarely is a memoir so worth the terrible effort." Predictably, many readers have been scared off by the difficulty of the subject, according to St. Martin's Press publicity manager Dori Weintraub, who is also O'Hagan's editor. "It's about Muscular Dystrophy, and a lot of people don't want to face that kind of thing,' she says. While Weintraub notes that it has been a challenge to make readers understand that the book transcends the genre of inspirational writing, she's still hopeful it may find a broader, more literary audience. "It's worth it for the writing--the sheer beauty of Christine's sentences."


Kirkus Reviews (starred review):

Irish-American O'Hagan, born and raised in Queens, takes her heart and squeezes until it purely aches as she relates how her son's life came to a premature close.

It was a terrible family legacy: her mother's unknown uncles, and then her mother's brother all had Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy and died young. DMD is hereditary, carried by females in one miserable gene that O'Hagan passes on to her younger son, Jamie. The author sings here of her father, a friend of the bottle who loved and battered and never shirked the hard acts of grace; of her mother, who sprinkled hope like fairy dust but also threw a Thanksgiving turkey at Dad when he arrived drunk for the festivities. But mostly she sings of the scalding innocence of Jamie. O'Hagan knew she was taking a chance when she got pregnant; she was a carrier and already had one healthy son. She tried denial when Jamie couldn't negotiate the steps of the school bus, when he fell and fell and yelled for the other kids to wait up. Then she had to accept the horrible truth, and she searingly chronicles the essential "daily-ness" of DMD. She rejects the experts' consoling advice that "successful adaptation does not depend on an accurate perception of reality"; she tells her son that "he [won't] live to be old, that he shouldn't worry about how long but instead, how deep." Jamie partakes; O'Hagan slumps, overwhelmed by his effort and pain Her mother calls her on it: "Get up out of that goddam bed," Mom snaps. "You're falling down on the job." Emotions come off the page like radioactive waves. When Jamie says, "I guess I'll never have a girlfriend," his mother can only reply, "I guess not." Then, at age 24, Jamie dies in Long Island's Stony Brook Hospital; she's besieged by emptiness, grief, guilt, and a love that challenges her sanity, until she is able to focus on the husband and son she has left.

Rarely is a memoir so worth the terrible effort.



Shortly after the Civil War, Bridget Moore left Ireland for New York, like many immigrants, with very little extra in her trunk--a pair of rosary beads, a clay pipe. But a dangerous invisible passenger accompanied her. She carried the gene that causes Duchenne muscular dystrophy, a wasting disorder affecting the legs, arms, and hips in young males. This unexpected curse is the dominant motif of O'Hagan's poignant, luminous, devastatingly moving memoir of her family and its long, courageous fight with a deadly disease. O'Hagan's brother, Richie, succumbed to it, as, years earlier, had two of her mother's brothers. Her first son, Patrick Jr., was born healthy, but her second-born, Jamie, the focal character of much of the book, wasn't so fortunate. We watch Jamie grow healthily until, when he is six, the family realizes that its fate is overtaking it again. Still, this is also a story of survival, perseverance, and hope, lit by great humanity and even humor.


Entertainment Weekly:

What shines through is O'Hagan's clear-eyed honesty, mordant humor, and most of all, love of God and family that provided her emotional strength. GRADE: B+



It's hard to imagine one family bearing so much pain, but O'Hagan brings us unflinchingly into her world, showing us both the love and the heartbreak without a shred of sentimentality."


Library Journal:

Like Penny Wolfson's MOONRISE: One Family, Genetic Identity, and Muscular Dystrophy, this intense memoir vividly depicts the impact of a fatal genetic disease on one family...O'Hagan's clearly written narrative is refreshingly free of self-pity and may offer solace and strength to families facing a devastating illness.