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A Potpourri of Reads: Reviews for “Ghost Boy,” “Working Stiff,” and “On the Island”


By Gini Rainey

“Ghost Boy: The Miraculous Escape of a Misdiagnosed Boy Trapped Inside His Own Body” By Martin Pistorius

This international best-seller is the sad yet ultimately victorious story of Martin Pistorius from South Africa, who at the age of twelve was stricken with a mysterious disease that left him a quadriplegic and unable to speak. When the doctors felt nothing more could be done for him and that he was probably severely brain damaged, he was institutionalized during the day while both of his parents worked to support their family.

Martin spent 10 years either in a wheelchair or on cushions on the floor, virtually a prisoner in his own body, unable to communicate in any way and hating his existence. At the mercy of his caregivers, he was unable to move or speak, tell anyone he was hot or cold, or uncomfortable. He had no way to tell them what he wanted to eat, drink, or what he wanted to do. He was abused mentally, physically, and even sexually by his caregivers. Unable to verbalize, he was not able to tell anyone about the abuse, so it continued.

Fortunately for Martin, one of his caregivers recognized a glimmer of awareness in his eyes and sensed that he was very much aware of the world outside his body. At her encouragement, Martin’s parents had him tested and discovered for themselves what Martin had known for a few years – he had a fully functioning brain. After a series of trials and errors, and with the incredible and patient assistance of his parents, Martin was able to finally communicate with those around him.

Now able to communicate, Martin’s life started to become better. He got a job and because of the technological communication advances for people such as himself, he was in high demand as the voice for the voiceless at seminars and symposiums for Augmentative and Alternative Communication.

Perhaps the greatest moment of Martin’s life, though, was when he met Joanna, a friend of his sister who was living in London. They met online, and although they lived on different continents, they pursued a relationship with each other via SKYPE. Joanna was very kind, caring, and loving and accepted Martin exactly as he was. After 6 months of SKYPE-dating, they finally met in person and it was not too long after, they were married.

Martin’s story could be anyone’s story. What happened to him could happen to anyone, but I think what makes his story so amazing is that he had the courage and determination to fight for his life while faced with seemingly insurmountable odds. It also is an amazing story of the love and dedication of his parents who fought against the odds to help their son become all that he could become.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2013 – Thomas Nelson

“Working Stiff: Two Years, 262 Bodies, and the Making of a Medical Examiner” By Judy Melinek, M.D. and T. J. Mitchell

You knew it was just a matter of time before I would pull out another medical forensic book, didn’t you? Well, this one is a bit different from my usual Patricia Cornwell fare – this one is real. “Working Stiff” is extremely rich in medical detail, so if you choose to read it, be prepared for grisly, uncensored descriptions of the cases Dr. Melinek witnessed or was involved in.

Dr. Melinek moved to New York from California to study to become a forensic pathologist. Based out of the medical examiner’s office in the Bronx, she sees it all in one form or another. Of particular interest are the sections that recount her experiences in the aftermath of both the 9/11 terrorist attack at the World Trade Center and the American Airlines Flight 587 crash in Queens. Most of us witnessed these events via sterile viewings on our televisions, but Melinek takes her readers right into the nitty gritty of it and introduces them to the incredible efforts made by heroic people during the aftermath of these mass-casualty disasters.

Although Melinek jumps around a bit in time, her writing is suffused with her personality, character, and her dedication to her profession. There are times when you might feel that the medical personnel are a bit irreverent, but then you will realize that this is a survival technique for people who deal with not-so-neat death on a daily basis.

As Judy tells her husband, T. J. after he complains that listening to her daily stories of her work will cause him to wear gloves and a mask when he is out in public, “Staying alive is mostly common sense.” There are a lot of folks out there who are doing some pretty stupid things and she’ll unabashedly tell you their stories. Certainly the stories she shares can be gruesome and cause you to wonder how they will die, but then she reminds the reader that a pathologist gives you the last physical exam you will ever have.

One strong point that Judy makes is that an autopsy is really a medical discovery. To be a pathologist you have to want to be a detective, albeit a cautious one, for the pathologist’s word and cause of death is the last word.

Dr. Melink’s stories are sometimes funny, but they are always filled with the knowledge that comes from someone who truly knows her profession. This book is definitely one of the best of this genre and it is extremely well written, with just the right amount of medical terminology, and the translation of what could otherwise be a very grisly topic is tastefully handled.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2014 – Scribner

“On The Island” By Tracey Garvis Graves

This book could easily be renamed “The Blue Lagoon Meets the Nanny Files.” Anna Emerson, a thirty year old English teacher looking for adventure, has been worn down by the cold Chicago winters and a personal relationship that is going absolutely nowhere. She literally jumps at the chance to spend the summer on a tropical island tutoring sixteen year old T. J.

J. Callahan has no desire to go anywhere. He is a survivor of cancer and is ready to get back to his normal life, but his parents insist that he spend his summer in the Maldives catching up on all of the school work he has missed while taking cancer treatments.

So Anna and T.J. board a private plane to fly to the Callahan’s summer home. Well, of course, the unthinkable happens as they are flying over the Maldives’ twelve hundred islands – their plane crashes in shark-infested waters. They make it to shore, but soon discover that they are stranded on an uninhabited island.

At first their only thought is about survival, but as the days turn to weeks, and then months, they encounter plenty of other obstacles. Violent storms, the many dangers lurking in the sea, and the possibility that T.J.’s cancer could return make life in the Maldives more interesting than Anna or T. J. ever thought it could be. Oh, and then there is the fact that T. J. is on the cusp of manhood.

Sarcasm aside, this really is a lovely story about two people thrown together who learn to depend on each other to survive. You would think that a romance between the two would seem very unlikely, but with the sensitive and powerful way the story is told, it just seems to make good sense that this would happen. Not told from just one point of view, but from both, you are able to get inside Anna and T.J.’s heads to see their thought processes and how their relationship evolves.

This is a great romance novel and an easy read. Additionally, it is one of the better self-published books I have read in quite a while and I would recommend it for a great way to spend a rainy afternoon during the upcoming spring.

Rating: 5 of 5

Copyright 2012 – Plume


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