Book Review: Reaching for Normal, by Amy Daniels
By Katherine Itacy
At twenty-six years old, Amy Daniels is a new mother with an exceedingly cranky baby. She and her husband, Dave, decide to get their daughter checked out by medical professionals, and when they do, they’re told seven-month-old Emily has a brain tumor the size of an orange, sitting right in the middle of her brain. Reaching for Normal chronicles the Daniels family’s life from the time of Emily’s birth and throughout her countless medical procedures and treatments. It details the highs and lows of each family member’s life as they struggle with Emily’s chronic illnesses and welcome her younger brother, Ryan, into the family. Reaching for Normal is a beautiful account of a young couple faced with near-impossible odds and heartrending choices regarding the health and quality of life of their firstborn. But more than that, the memoir details Emily’s resilient spirit and awe-inspiring optimism, Amy’s determination to balance her work life with her responsibilities to both of her children, Dave’s efforts to financially provide for his family, care for his children, and maintain a relationship with his wife, and Ryan becoming a mature, empathetic, typically developing young man who’s often taking a back seat to his sister’s life-threatening medical issues.
This review was originally published on Story Circle Network’s website here.
At the beginning of the memoir, Ms. Daniels informs her readers that her objectives in writing this book were twofold: (1) to help those caring for someone with a chronic illness feel less alone; and (2) to hopefully bridge the gap between “typical” and “special” families by showing that we’re not all that different from one another. In my humble opinion, Reaching for Normal easily fulfills those objectives in the most heartwarming of ways.
As a person who’s suffered from chronic illnesses for nearly her entire life, and someone who was also born with a tumor, my heart broke for the Daniels family. I could sympathize with the unique financial, physical, and emotional struggles that come with caring for or being a chronically ill person. In fact, there were many times in which I stopped reading and reconsidered just how difficult my parents must have had it while raising me. I’d then resume reading and realize that for Amy and Dave Daniels, it must have been a million times more difficult.
A small sampling of Emily Daniels’ countless procedures includes six brain surgeries before she’s three years old, doctors repeatedly suctioning fluid out of cysts in her brain and inserting chemo into them, targeted radiation into the tumor, a feeding tube inserted into her stomach, blood transfusions, and more.
In addition to detailing Emily’s unending medical struggles, Amy Daniels writes about how Emily’s special needs affected their young family in both positive and negative ways. Daniels chronicles some of her battles with insurance providers, the love and support they received from extended family, friends, and employers, the countless impossible decisions Amy and Dave were forced to make regarding their daughter’s life and well-being, and the strain Emily’s medical issues had on Amy and Dave’s marriage, their home and social lives, their mental health, and their vision for the future.
What I found most endearing about this book was that Ms. Daniels shows how her family, while facing some very grave and unusual circumstances, is still rather “normal” when it comes to the issues they face. Despite Emily’s unique medical conditions, she’s still a happy little girl who doesn’t like being seen as different from her peers. Even though Ryan grows up with his sister constantly in the hospital or receiving medical care at home, he and Emily still enjoy the same love-hate relationship that so many young siblings in America have. And just like every other parent in America, Amy and Dave struggle to find a work/home life balance, fight for the best interests of their children when it comes to their schooling and medical care, try their best to find time for themselves and their relationship while also working and raising children.
I admire and can relate to each member of the Daniels family, and I feel honored to have gotten to know their lives a little better. They are undoubtedly a special family, and Reaching for Normal is an unquestionably special book.
My Rating: 5/5
About the Author:
Amy Daniels has a master’s degree in social science and has worked for years on social and clinical research projects in both the public and private sectors. She has contributed to parenting publications and lives with her family in Holly Springs, North Carolina.
Reaching for Normal is currently available on Amazon.
Disclaimer: I was sent a copy of Ms. Daniels’s book, Reaching for Normal, via Story Circle Network, in exchange for my honest review of the book.