Book Review: Carry On

Carry On:  A Story Of Resilience, Redemption, And An Unlikely Family, by Lisa Fenn

[Note:  This book was provided by BookLook/Thomas Nelson Publishing.  All thoughts and opinions are my own.]

This book is a companion volume to two ESPN movies I have not seen about disabled wrestlers from a struggling public school in a particularly unfortunate part of Cleveland.  This is a book that combines a fair amount of tearjerking stories about harrowing childhoods spent in immensely dysfunctional families as well as an unsparingly honest approach to the difficulties of escaping from such a trap.  It also features, unfortunately, a very Nathanish examination of the horrors of PTSD for one of the young people involved [1].  The result is a book that hits rather close to home in surprising and often unpleasant ways but also shows a great deal of resilience and hope for the people involved.  It is a book about friendship and family and loyalty and the grit and determination it takes to make a better life out of the grim materials of one’s ordinary existence, and it also demonstrates a great deal of the educational and other deficits that often keep people down generation after generation after generation.  There is indeed something worth appreciating in this excellent book.

In terms of its contents, the book is about 300 pages long and is told in a mostly chronological fashion.  At its core are three people.  Two of them, Leroy and Dartanyon, are black wrestlers at an inner-city school in Cleveland who happen to be disabled.  Leroy had lost his legs in a childhood train accident, and Dartanyon is a motherless young man who struggles with natural near-blindness.  Predictably, as they are both engaging young people, they are passed along despite having massive learning deficits and a shortage of skills in how to gain knowledge and demonstrate it that are important in higher education.  The third person is Lisa Fenn, the author, a former producer with ESPN who has a strong streak of social justice and a problem with carrying children to full term.  The book looks at what happens when a chance encounter with a story leads to two ESPN films and charity donations and to plans and actions taken for a better future through grit and a lot of stress and difficulty.  The author, in the process, lays bare a look at the dynamics that keep people trapped in poverty and despair generation after generation, from educational shortfalls of several kinds to the plague of unstable families and a common resort to crime and drugs and alcohol as a way of escaping intolerable realities, and a flinty pride that prevents one from asking for help or being candid about how difficult things are really going.

Overall, this is a pretty painful book to read.  It is a book that struggles with the problem of evil as well as the related problem of good, and shows both compassion and a surprising degree of toughness.  The author leaves the reader with no easy answers, which is the honest thing to do, and puts a spotlight on the fact that so many problems are deeply connected.  The dysfunctionality of family life among the poor is perpetuated by a lack of hope and opportunity, of the expectations that help breed success as well as fragile families and addictive patterns of self-medication.  This book shows how this happens over and over and over again.  It serves as a poignant reminder of life’s difficulty and the ways that people overcome them without hardening themselves to the good in the world and in the people in it.  There are triumphs and struggles aplenty in these pages, and a call for compassion as well as for a sort of tough love that seeks both to understand and improve.  It is, in the end, a surprisingly complicated and nuanced look at life and family and what it takes to succeed and to overcome adversity without self-pity.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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