Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Book Review: Dwarf: A Memoir of How One Woman Fought for a Body-and a Life-She Was Never Supposed to Have by Tiffanie DiDonato with Rennie Dyball

I do adore memoirs, and as an avid watcher of "Little People, Big World" and "The Little Couple," this was a perfect diversion.

Tiffanie has a rare form of dwarfism, and doesn't realize it herself for many years, until she's in school, because her parents never bring it up. She doesn't realize all the doctor's appointments, surgeries, and the tricks she has to do around the house for things like getting a cereal bowl and turning on light switches, are unusual until after she ends up stuck in the girls' bathroom at school with a doorknob too high and a door too heavy for her to navigate. Tiffanie's mother finds out about the new and controversial bone-lengthening operations and decides the improved quality of life is worth the pain and suffering, and so Tiffanie undergoes the surgery and spends months being tutored at home while periodically turning a screw that slowly but surely adds two inches to her lower legs, upper legs, and arms. As a teenager, she decides herself that she wants to do the surgeries a second time, but only if she can find a doctor who's willing to try for more than two inches at each of the sites.

Meanwhile, her parents divorce and get back together, she grows up, goes to school, gets a job at her grandfather's retirement home, and starts to correspond with a cute soldier overseas. The main point all the TV shows and books and speeches about Little People tries to convey is how ordinary their lives are, but that belies the very important fact that they just aren't. They're ordinary in the details, but in the aggregate, they're normal for someone with a medium-scale handicap, and that's just a fact. I appreciated very much that Tiffanie didn't shy away from this at all. As she describes going through excruciating pain in the effort to live a more normal life, she doesn't deny that it's not normal that as a child she couldn't reach her own ears or see over a countertop, and even as a teen she struggled with things like reaching the pedals of a car. Her father is refreshing in that he isn't one of those super-supportive "you can do anything!" parents; instead he is afraid, anxious, disagrees with the surgeries, and wants to follow Tiffanie around everywhere helping her out as much as possible so she won't have to do much. In college she found out that the nice person always shoveling her car out of the snow after a snowstorm was not the local custodian as she had suspected, but her Dad who drove a long way in the middle of the night to do it every single time.

The book ends with her falling in love and having a storybook wedding, but we kind of get away from the main topic in the first 7/8 of the book and we don't hear much about her now husband's reaction to her dwarfism after their first meeting, don't hear if it's going to cause problems in her pregnancy (other than raising the risk of her child having dwarfism), and if she finds today, after all her surgeries, that there are still things she can't do at 4'10". Instead, the book does become rather ordinary. Although of course it's terribly nice that Tiffanie meets a cute guy who sees beyond her issues and loves her for who she truly is and they live happily ever after.

The book was a quick read, very diverting, and I admire Tiffanie for meeting challenges head-on and doing what works best for her, no matter others' opinions.

I bought this book at my local independent bookstore.

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