The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

December 25, 2009

Book review: Medical surprise makes for compelling story

“What I Thought I Knew”

By Alice Eve Cohen

It is the spring of 1999, and 44-year-old Alice Eve Cohen is deliriously happy. She is raising Julia, her 8-year-old adopted daughter, she is dating a wonderful man and has a thriving career as a playwright and theater artist.

And then one day in early April, she awakens with an upset stomach.

The nausea never abates, and over the course of the next several months Alice gains a host of new symptoms, which her gynecologist diagnoses as early menopause, her gastroenterologist as anemia and reflux, and her general practitioner as a tumor. It is only later, during a CAT scan, that it is accidentally discovered that she is 26 weeks pregnant.

And so begins Alice’s difficult journey in trying to figure out how to proceed. Especially since she has not receive any prenatal care, has been taking prescription medication and synthetic hormones that are know to cause birth defects, is a high-risk pregnancy, and has to deal with an insurance company that offers little coverage or help.

Cohen offers her perspective on the medical system, motherhood and what it means to be a family in today’s society, while providing an honest, entertaining and captivating narrative. She pulls no punches and candidly opens herself to readers, despite how she may appear or be judged.

This is a fast-paced memoir that will preoccupy readers’ thoughts long after the last page has been read.

“When You Reach Me”

By Rebecca Stead

New York City sixth-grader Miranda has a lot on her mind during the fall of 1978.

She would like to know why her best friend, Sal, suddenly stops speaking to her after a stranger punches him in the stomach; who stole the “emergency only” apartment key that she and her mother had hidden outside their apartment; and who is leaving her notes that seem to predict the future.

Using her powers of observation, Miranda seeks to answer these questions and more as her familiar world is abruptly upended.

Stead has written a fantastical mystery that will captivate readers from the opening chapter. Miranda is endearing, perceptive and better yet, a typical sixth-grade student who is struggling with family, friendships and her personal identity. She, along with a diverse cast of characters, steals the show.

Jeana Gockley is the children’s librarian at Joplin Public Library.