My Unexpected Life

Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis

Non-Fiction - Memoir
357 Pages
Reviewed on 09/16/2023
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    Book Review

Reviewed by Jamie Michele for Readers' Favorite

Jennifer Gasner, author of My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis, describes her journey both before and after receiving a diagnosis of Friedreich's Ataxia at the age of seventeen. The diagnosis answered questions she had about her mental and physical decline leading up to knowing their cause, but she was naturally despondent about what it would mean for the rest of her life. She resorts to harmful coping mechanisms in college, finally reaching a point of reflection. Committed to a positive shift, she seeks out and receives the cooperation of other sources, such as working with the Dave Matthews Band and joining an MDA support group. In order to live more independently, Gasner crowdsources money to purchase an adapted van. She persists, she achieves her goal, and she tells us all about it in this memoir.

My Unexpected Life by Jennifer Gasner is a powerful example of resiliency and the acceptance of oneself. Readers will find themselves inexorably drawn into Gasner's journey with Friedreich's Ataxia (FA), from her initial shock diagnosis to managing relationships while confronting the condition, through her sincere and witty style. In addition to informing readers about FA and emphasizing the value of a positive self-perception and a fulfilling life in the face of adversity, her courage and resiliency serve as a source of motivation for others. With a lot of 1990s nostalgia, Gasner's writings alter the view of the general population on what it means to be 'normal.' As far as I am concerned, she has achieved all of it with me and opened my eyes to much, much more.

Asher Syed

My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis by Jennifer Gasner is a memoir in which the author explores her teenage years up to college and beyond. She faces physical and mental challenges while pursuing her passions. Initially undiagnosed, Jennifer finds solace from academic struggles in music and her friendship with Steve. Eventually, she's diagnosed with the neuromuscular disease Friedreich’s Ataxia, and an emotional rollercoaster ensues. College brings new hurdles, friendships, and romantic entanglements with Eric, Vance, and Shane. She joins an MDA support group, strives for better grades, and focuses seriously on her future. She explores mobility aids and is supported in her aspirations. Jennifer excels in event planning and works in the music industry with a band that helps fundraise for her. Ultimately, Jennifer embraces the wheelchair, participates in Ms. Wheelchair America, and bucks disability stereotypes.

Jennifer Gasner shares pieces of her early self in My Unexpected Life, detailing what it was like for her to come of age with the unexpected element of Friedreich’s Ataxia, or FA, tacked on to it. Jennifer puts the experiences in perspective through the lens of how life was then versus how it is now, given the limited resources of the era. As someone who lives in a country with national healthcare, I was saddened by the lengths she had to go to for an adapted van that would cost her nothing here. It's incredible that in young adulthood she cracked on, and while she credits a band for helping her, I can't help but view it as her success alone. What I appreciated most was the insight into how her personal life was impacted by FA. Her friends, her boyfriends, and her social life. As a "girl dad," this is why I picked up this book. The honesty is refreshing, and the college experience, as it turns out, is pretty universal! It's nice to put a smile on a story, and I am grateful that Jennifer Gasner has given us both. Very highly recommended.

K.C. Finn

My Unexpected Life: Finding Balance Beyond My Diagnosis is a work of non-fiction in the memoir, relationships, and medical issues subgenres. It is best suited to adult readers owing to the presence of some strong language and discussion of sex and was penned by author Jennifer Gasner. This heartfelt and candid memoir takes readers on a journey through the author's life as she grapples with a life-altering diagnosis of Friedreich's Ataxia, a rare genetic neuromuscular disease. At seventeen, Jennifer's world is turned upside down as she confronts the harsh reality of a progressive illness that threatens her mobility, self-esteem, and dreams for the future. The book paints a vivid picture of Jennifer's emotional rollercoaster, from sadness and denial to the alienation she experiences in college. She turns to unhealthy coping mechanisms like alcohol and a toxic relationship to distract herself from the inevitable. However, a chance friendship with rock star Dave Matthews begins to change her perspective, showing her that using a wheelchair doesn't signify the end of her life.

Author Jennifer Gasner’s emotionally raw journey of self-discovery and acceptance is both inspiring and educational. Her realization that her body doesn't need fixing, but rather her assumptions about disability do, is a powerful message that is sure to resonate deeply with readers. Through her friendly and inviting narrative tone, she invites us to challenge our preconceptions and embrace gratitude and acceptance in the face of life's challenges. Overall, My Unexpected Life is a testament to the human spirit's capacity to overcome adversity and find balance and happiness in unexpected places, and I would certainly recommend it to anyone undergoing sudden medical change who seeks to find joy and peace.