It’s My Life

  • Review
By – October 19, 2020

Jen­na Cohen is a sis­ter, a friend, a daugh­ter, an out­stand­ing high school stu­dent, a proud­ly Jew­ish young woman, and she has cere­bral pal­sy. Although her con­di­tion lim­its her mobil­i­ty and she suf­fers from occa­sion­al embar­rass­ing spasms and black­outs, she does not let her ill­ness define her. She is well-round­ed, has a pos­i­tive out­look and bright hopes for the future. That is, until the day she finds out that her med­ical con­di­tion was caused by the obste­tri­cian who deliv­ered her, and could pos­si­bly have been pre­vent­ed by his more care­ful atten­tion and focus. This dis­cov­ery rocks Jen­na’s world and caus­es her to take stock of her life anew. She feels betrayed by her par­ents for not shar­ing this infor­ma­tion with her and she begins to ques­tion the meth­ods and philoso­phies they cling to in hav­ing raised a child with her dis­abil­i­ties. She sec­ond-guess­es many of their choic­es and begins to pur­sue legal eman­ci­pa­tion in order to start mak­ing her own med­ical decisions.

Jen­na with­draws from her chal­leng­ing high school enrich­ment pro­gram with its full com­ple­ment of AP class­es and enrolls in a less intense aca­d­e­m­ic pro­gram. She strives to inte­grate the new-found knowl­edge of her med­ical his­to­ry into a revised per­cep­tion of who she is and how she plans to con­duct her life, weigh­ing choic­es and fac­ing their impli­ca­tions for her future. She has a won­der­ful sup­port sys­tem in her two lov­ing sib­lings, a young gay man named Ben who is her clos­est friend, and her uncle, a lawyer who is help­ing her pre­pare her eman­ci­pa­tion case. She also real­izes that her par­ents, who have made mis­takes and con­tin­ue to make them, love her deeply. Her strug­gles feel authen­tic and relat­able and, as we read, we both admire and empathize with Jen­na for her strengths as well as her challenges.

What is a page-turn­ing young adult nov­el with­out its roman­tic inter­est? Jen­na’s child­hood crush has returned to their home­town and plot twists abound until Jen­na suc­ceeds in learn­ing to stop hid­ing her real per­son­al­i­ty behind smoke­screens and eva­sions and the two reach an under­stand­ing. The roman­tic sto­ry­line is touch­ing and sweet but it does not over­whelm the book’s impor­tant focus on her deter­mi­na­tion to make her own choic­es, both med­ical and oth­er­wise; the rela­tion­ship sup­ports this theme, sim­ply adding anoth­er dimen­sion to it.

The read­er, while absorbed in an engag­ing sto­ry filled with light moments and humor as well as seri­ous issues and con­tro­ver­sy, learns much about legal eman­ci­pa­tion, auton­o­my, and cere­bral pal­sy; as well as about self-con­fi­dence and the abil­i­ty to rebound even after seri­ous errors of judg­ment. In spite of some minor ques­tions of believ­abil­i­ty (would her uncle real­ly pur­sue a legal case on her behalf against her par­ents and still have a lov­ing rela­tion­ship with her par­ents?) this is a worth­while read.

Michal Hoschan­der Malen is the edi­tor of Jew­ish Book Coun­cil’s young adult and children’s book reviews. A for­mer librar­i­an, she has lec­tured on top­ics relat­ing to lit­er­a­cy, run book clubs, and loves to read aloud to her grandchildren.

Discussion Questions