Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven
Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, Hardcover, 9780618658534, 224pp.
Publication Date: June 1, 2007
A rich and moving memoir of childhood illness and its aftermath by a member of the last generation of Americans to have experienced childhood polio
Just after her eleventh birthday, at the height of the frightening childhood polio epidemic, Susan Richards Shreve was sent as a patient to the sanitarium at Warm Springs, Georgia. It was a place famously founded by FDR, "a perfect setting in time and place and strangeness for a hospital of crippled children."
There the young Shreve met Joey Buckley, a thirteen-year-old in a wheelchair who desperately wants to play football for Alabama. The shock of first love and of separation from her fiercely protective mother propels Shreve on a careening course from Warm Springs bad girl to overachieving saint and back again. This indelible portrait of the psychic fallout of childhood illness ends -- like Tobias Wolff's Old School -- with a shocking collision between adolescent drive and genteel institution.
During Shreve's stay at Warm Springs, the Salk vaccine was developed, an event that put an end to a harrowing time for American families. Shreve's memoir is both a fascinating historical record of that time and an intensely felt story of childhood.