Firsts

Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities

Non-Fiction - Anthology
172 Pages
Reviewed on 12/05/2018
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities is a nonfiction anthology edited by Belo Miguel Ciperiani. Ciperiani lost his vision when he was 27. He grew up looking forward to his weekly trip to the library where he would pick up a new selection of audio books. Popping the first one in his Discman for the bus ride back home, he’d forget his surroundings and get lost in the newest story. One thing in particular bothered him; that was the depiction of disabled characters in those stories. It seemed as though the failings of those characters were intricately linked to their disabilities. The nonfiction memoirs he read were equally unsatisfying as they were generally written by people who had beaten the odds and regained their sight, hearing or the use of their limbs. Ciperiani gravitated to writing in part in reaction to his efforts to find writers who could share the experiences of the disabled. This book is the result of his call for disabled authors to share their coming of age experiences. Out of the hundreds of submissions he received, he selected the eleven stories that are found here.

Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities is one of those rare books you want to never end. I lost myself in each of the stories found within this collection. Heidi Johnson-Wright’s short story, Life with Lexie, is the perfect opening tale; one that anyone, able-bodied or not, would have a hard time not relating to. Heidi’s life went pear-shaped when she was nine years old and rheumatoid arthritis left her totally dependent upon a mercurial and ill-tempered mother, until that day when she went off to college. Once I had begun reading Johnson-Wright’s story, I was hooked into reading each of these marvelous and inspirational stories. I met amazing people; some were autistic, others blind, still others suffered from debilitating PTSD. In The Hearing Child, Kevin Souhrada shares his world as a second-generation deaf man. His story reveals the community and support systems that were so much a part of his upbringing, his culture. In Sleeveless at Least, Teresa M. Elquezabal defies the medical establishment’s grim prognosis on her chances of ever walking again after an accident because her love of tango will not let her surrender.

In each rite of passage, there’s a hero. His or her voice speaks persuasively and with such strength. They share their frustrations, their moments of self-doubt and insecurity, but overall there’s the shared exhilaration of reaching for that first and getting it. Each story captures the human experience so eloquently and with such power. I’d love to see more of the submissions that editor Belo Miguel Ciperiani received for this collection and hope he’ll consider publishing a second one. Yes, these stories are that good. Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities is most highly recommended.

Sefina Hawke

Firsts (Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities) by Belo Miguel Cipriani is a non-fiction anthology of stories that would appeal most to a mixed audience of young adults and adults interested in learning more about people who have disabilities. The author brought together a collection of accounts from different people who all have disabilities. The contributors include Heidi Johnson-Wright, David-Elijah Nahmod, Caitlin Hernandez, and many more. Are you ready to open your eyes and truly see what these individuals managed to overcome and accomplish?

Firsts (Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities) by Belo Miguel Cipriani is a well written book filled with interesting real life stories and events that happened to real people. I personally found the section on Heidi Johnson-Wright to be my favorite as I felt like I could sympathize and understand her condition on a personal level, since my Ehlers Danlos flare up reminded me a bit of Heidi Johnson-Wright’s flare ups. As a psychology graduate with an interest in working with special needs children, this book proved to be an eye-opening experience that allowed me to really get a feel for what people with disabilities go through not just physically, but also mentally.

I feel that this book has made me better equipped for understanding the psychological and mental needs of the children that I hope to work with and I believe that this will help to make me a better caretaker. I am glad that I took the time to read this book. I found it rather inspiring to read about how these individuals with disabilities managed to live their lives despite their disabilities. I would also recommend this book to anyone interested in becoming a caretaker as well as those who have family members or friends who have a disability.

K.C. Finn

Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities is an anthology collection of personal tales in the memoir style, compiled by author Belo Miguel Cipriani and contributed to by Nigel David Kelly, Kimberly Gerry-Tucker, Caitlin Hernandez, Andrew Gurza, and David-Elijah Nahmod, to name but a few. Writers with disabilities come together in this moving collection to discuss first time experiences with life, love, heartbreak and adventure, and to offer unique perspectives on the topics. As we encounter these 'firsts' in our own lives, these writers hold up a mirror to show the similarities and differences in how they experience life because of the challenges which they face every day that are different to the norm.

As a disabled writer myself, I really appreciated the ethos and method of this collection. The writers who give themselves over to it do so freely, without embarrassment or any fear of stigma, and it’s because of their fearlessness that the reading experience is so powerfully emotive. In total, the eleven writers of the pieces presented very different but equally powerful representations of living with disabilities, and I found Heidi Johnson-Wright’s opening piece to be particularly emotive as it resonated with my own conditions. Whether you share a similar condition or not, I would highly recommend this book not just for the personal growth of any reader, but because the stories are phenomenally well told and touching in the hands of their very talented authors. Overall, Belo Miguel Cipriani has done a superb job curating Firsts, and it comes highly recommended.

Joel R. Dennstedt

It probably goes without saying that people with disabilities tend to encounter life more directly and with fewer buffers than those without. What presents to the majority as a basic life challenge, like learning to clean oneself properly, often becomes an almost insurmountable obstacle to one with any of a myriad physical or mental restrictions at any of a thousand levels of severity. Belo Miguel Cipriani selectively chose the stories of such people to include in his book, Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People with Disabilities. The title is self-explanatory. Each chapter features a story told by one subject who accomplished or surmounted a specific rite-of-passage while endowed with or suffering from the onset of a particular disability. But, take the academic sound out of that description. The authors of these chapters are not subjects. Their tales are not clinical studies. These stories are right up close and personal; told by people, not victims.

Belo Miguel Cipriani must be credited for the idea, the selection, and the editing of Firsts. And he must be commended for a job exceedingly well done. The authors of the chosen stories, however, account for the immediacy, humor, drama, pathos, and victorious nature embedded within each tale. And some, like Overdubbing the Cody Effect by Sam E. Rubin, told from the inside by a boy developing autism, and Star Words by David-Elijah Nahmod, survivor of a childhood plagued by parental ignorance and professional abuse, are absolute gems of writing. And the words I kept hearing in my mind while reading these consummately inspiring pieces were those of Nelson Mandela: “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it.”

Romuald Dzemo

Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities by Belo Miguel Cipriani is a powerful step forward and a compelling book that opens portals for readers to gaze into the inner world of people with disabilities. In this collection, readers follow the characters, people with disabilities, in unusual adventures. Their pain is real, the journey through frustration, disappointment, and the disturbing feeling of being different. Each story has a beauty of its own, a lesson for the reader, and as you read through each story, you see how a disability can be turned into a blessing, and how the heroes in this book found the gold in the rubble of their lives. There are different voices in this collection, and each of them is unique, moving, and clear.

While the narrators have different disabilities and unique backgrounds, they share the common pain of suddenly realizing that they are different, the struggle to connect with others, and, above all, the journey towards self-acceptance. Meet Heidi Johnson-Wright whose life was hijacked at the age of nine by severe rheumatoid arthritis which made it difficult for her to walk; Nigel David Kelly who takes readers on his journey in “Dark Clouds," exploring the impact of his increasing hearing loss in the right ear, along with tinnitus; Sam E. Rubin who recounts his adventure with high-functioning autism (HFA) in “Overdubbing the Cody Effect,” and what becomes of his gift for music, and many other stories. Firsts: Coming Of Age Stories By People With Disabilities is an inspiring collection, beautifully written and filled with insights about life, finding meaning in our imperfections, and the hidden joy of accepting who we really are. It’s filled with love and hope.