A Father's Memoir of His Daughter's Courageous Journey
By James Jr Reston
(Three Rivers Press, Paperback, 9781400082445, 272pp.)
Publication Date: April 3, 2007
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Fragile Innocence is the story of a child devastated by pure chance. This moving narrative of a father’s journey to understand and accept the profound changes in his daughter’s life is at once memoir, biography, mystery, and drama, all centered around one remarkable young woman who cannot talk or read or understand language, but who has touched almost everyone she has ever met.
At eighteen months Hillary Reston, a happy, healthy toddler, was struck by a remarkably high fever. On the advice of her doctor, her parents, James Reston, Jr., and Denise Leary, administered Tylenol and anxiously waited for the fever to subside. Five days later it did, but the damage was done. Over the course of the next five months their bubbly, highly verbal child was radically and irrevocably changed. Worse yet, no doctor could explain what evil and still unidentified force had stolen Hillary’s ability to speak or understand language, hurtled her into a seemingly endless cycle of seizures, destroyed her kidneys, and taken her to the very brink of death.
For her parents, discovering what had happened to their child and how to assure the quality of her life became an obsession. This quest for answers would take them from the nation’s hospitals to the office of a pioneering geneticist in Texas and the vaulted halls of the National Institutes of Health.
This very intimate story also personalizes some of the most daunting ethical issues of medicine that society faces today, including stem cell research, animal organ transplantation, diagnosis with the Human Genome Map, and reproductive and therapeutic cloning. Hillary gives these immensely complicated issues a human face, and they are pondered by Reston as a reporter, a thinker, and a father.
In Fragile Innocence author James Reston, Jr., invites us inside his family, candidly sharing the joys and sorrows of raising Hillary.
“This is a book about the first twenty-one years of a child named Hillary. It tells of her battle to live and our family’s struggle to help her survive as best we could, after an evil and still unidentified force robbed her of her language at the age of two, hurtled her into a seemingly endless cycle of brain storms, destroyed her kidneys, and took her to the very brink of death. That is the first half of the story, when life itself was at stake.” —From the Preface
James Reston, Jr., is a critically acclaimed writer and historian whose books include Warriors of God, The Last Apocalypse, Galileo: A Life, and his newest work, Dogs of God. He lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, with his wife and Hillary.
Praise of Fragile Innocence
"Dread settles in from the first sentence of James Reston Jr.'s Fragile Innocence, and it hovers, an unshakeable shadow, over this carefully crafted memoir. For a time, we manage to ignore it. Reston is a successful journalist happily married to lawyer Denise Leary. They are well-connected—he comes from a Washington family rooted "in privilege and plenty," and they have ambitious careers and three happy young children. But Reston's opening sentence haunts us: "The year 1981 was the end of an era in our personal lives."
Reston's emergence over time as a more visible character lies at the heart of this memoir's power. Despite all the drama inherent in the plot—will Hillary survive? what will her life be like? how will her family keep from cracking apart?—the true power of this book comes in the story of discovery that accompanies it. When Reston and his wife were forced to confront the fact that their child would never become the person they envisioned, would never live up to what they once considered to be her full potential, they found themselves grappling with a host of complex and tender issues that come with severe disability: what it means to live a worthwhile life, how success is measured, even why we love each other.
Fragile Innocence is a page-turning read. Most of all though, it's the story of a father's discovery—the discovery that love trumps terror, that love finds expression despite seemingly impossible circumstances. It is, in the end, the story of a father's love for his daughter." —Washington Post Book Review
Praise for James Reston Jr.’s Previous Books
Dogs of God
“Rarely has medieval history seemed so urgent.” —Kirkus Reviews
Warriors of God
“Prolific author and journalist Reston offers the reader a captivating story in a lucid and often humorous style. Warriors of God is a fine example of narrative history.” —Library Journal
The Last Apocalypse
“Boldly written. . . . Can the last millennium enlighten the next? Reston . . . gives us the question dipped in blood.” —Atlanta Journal-Constitution
Galileo: A Life
“A brilliant biography.” —Washington Post
“Fresh, sinewy, and altogether admirable.” —Los Angeles Times