Disability Studies Quarterly
Summer 2006, Volume 26, No. 3
Copyright 2006 by the Society
for Disability Studies


Krause, Carol (Ed.). (2005). Between Myself and Them: Stories of Disability and Difference. Toronto: Second Story Press. 222 pages, $14.95, Trade paper 1-896764-99-1.

Reviewed by Suzann Holland, Oskaloosa (Iowa) Public Library

Editor Carol Krause identifies the mission of Between Myself and Them in the introduction — "to embrace and celebrate difference and to share stories with one another without pity shame, or fear." While this hints that the book was written for those touched by disability, no specific audience is clearly targeted, and the clear writing style makes it accessible to all who might take an interest in it. The included pieces fall into four categories: identity, work and school, community, and living. The editor's categorization is unnecessary, as heavy overlap abounds among them. It should be noted that all of the contributors are young adults, or are speaking on behalf of them.

With no clear target audience, the book can be described as "general interest." Why would the casual reader pick up Between Myself and Them? The cover is visually appealing enough to draw attention, and different perspectives tend to be interesting. Readers fond of David Pelzer's A Child Called It and "based-on-a-true-story" movies on Lifetime may pick up Between Myself and Them hoping for a certain high that comes from hearing about tales of extreme suffering. This isn't the book for them, and that's a good thing. Krause could have easily collected tales of misery and fashioned them into a marathon of suffering. Instead, the book maintains a generally positive tone throughout.

The back cover copy makes big promises: that every reader will be changed by the book, disability will be discussed as it's never been discussed before, and content will be provided that is "gutsy, frank, provocative, and even confrontational." While the willingness of the contributors to share personal struggles is certainly admirable, the resulting text does not fulfill those promises. Ultimately and perhaps unexpectedly, Between Myself and Them falters due to several missteps. The use of multiple pieces by the same contributors is a poor editing choice; including a wider array of voices would have been more conducive to the anthology's mission. Krause also includes contributors with conditions such as diabetes and Crohn's alongside much more limiting conditions, such as muscular dystrophy and blindness. This inclusion is almost certainly an attempt to provide variety and address hidden disabilities, but such conditions probably aren't covered by the average reader's sense of the word disability. The third and most severe flaw is that the completely positive perspective offers little insight into the effect of disability on the lives of the contributors.

Most of the early pieces in the book will fail to interest readers. At best, they are soliloquies on not letting disabilities hold one back and challenging the reader to define the word normal. At worst, they waste the reader's time. Case in point: the author of the first essay reflects on how it would be easier to say that she is a vampire than to explain her complicated medical condition. The concept is amusing, but not enough to sustain interest over the seven pages used to explain it. Around the midpoint, Between Myself and Them improves somewhat, but never becomes the book it should be.

One of the few poignant contributions in the book is "Living with Jade." Jade is a twenty-one year old woman with the cognitive ability of an infant. Her parents (primary caregivers) are interviewed about their experiences with their daughter. Interestingly, one of the first statements of the interview, "Living with Jade sounds like we had a choice," hints that the reader is in for several pages of bitterness and resentment. The story that unfolds is one of parents with little hope who manage to find contentment. Their description of what Jade has in her life, such as the simple joy of the wind across her face, rather than that for which she lacks, will likely touch all who read it. They also speak with honesty of the limitations that caring for Jade places on their lives. If the rest of the book approached a comparable level of completely unpolished reflection, the readers' interest would be held from cover to cover.

Overall, Between Myself and Them is a fairly weak attempt to offer insight into the feelings and experiences that go along with disability. The fact that one brother/sister team wrote three of the pieces is telling. The reader is left with the sense that the various pieces were commissioned among friends and colleagues, rather than carefully selected from a larger body of contributions. Whether or not this is actually the case is irrelevant; the image presented is one of limited perspective. This anthology would be most interesting to those somehow affected by disability, either their own or that of a friend or loved one. The seasoned scholar and the casual reader will gain little insight from Krause's volume, and may not even find the will to finish it.

Copyright (c) 2006 Suzann Holland

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ISSN: 2159-8371 (Online); 1041-5718 (Print)