Poster Child: A Memoir

Poster Child: A Memoir

by Emily Rapp

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Emily Rapp was born with a congenital defect that required, at the age of four, that her left foot be amputated. By the time she was eight shed had dozens of operations, had lost most of her leg, from just above the knee, and had become the smiling, indefatigable "poster child" for the March of Dimes. For years she made appearances at church suppers and rodeos, giving


Emily Rapp was born with a congenital defect that required, at the age of four, that her left foot be amputated. By the time she was eight shed had dozens of operations, had lost most of her leg, from just above the knee, and had become the smiling, indefatigable "poster child" for the March of Dimes. For years she made appearances at church suppers and rodeos, giving pep talks about how normal and happy she was. All the while she was learning to live with what she later described as "my grievous, irrevocable flaw," and the paradox that being extraordinary was the only way to be ordinary.

Praise for Poster Child:

"Rapps precise and forthright descriptions of her exhausting physical ordeals and complex psychic wounds are simultaneously harrowing and fascinating, and they foster a strong bond between writer and reader...Rapp approaches the memoir as a supple, revelatory, involving and generous genre....She offers a fresh perspective on our obsession with physical perfection, especially the crushing expectations for women, and she writes delicately about the fears that disability engenders regarding intimacy and sex. Rapps insiders view of the history of prostheses deepens our empathy and admiration for those who depend on artificial limbs, a growing population, once again, in yet another time of war and horrific injuries. Memoir, the conduit from the personal to the universal, is the surest way into the kind of significant psychological, sociological and spiritual truth Rapp is engaged in articulating. And there isnt one false note here. Not one inauthentic moment. No cheap manipulation. No self-importance...Her cauterizing specificity is compelling, her candor incandescent and her intelligence, courage and spiritual diligence stupendous."-Donna Seaman, Los Angeles Times
"You cant put down this excellent memoir ...Poster Child beautifully illustrates every human beings sometimes overt, sometimes co

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Rapp, a writing professor at Antioch University, has crafted a meditative, nuanced account of her life, which began with a grim prognosis after she was born in 1974 with a shortened leg. At first, her handicap is filtered through the prismatic fantasy of girlhood. "I felt singled out and special," she reflects, spinning stories of dragon attacks to enthralled schoolmates in Nebraska and Wyoming. In a childhood marked by surgeries and prosthetic fittings, she becomes a bubbly poster child for the local March of Dimes. As the daughter of a pastor and fiercely optimistic parents, Rapp prays earnestly for a normal leg even as she feverishly overcompensates for the artificial limb through witty verve and rambunctious horseplay. But in adolescence, she struggles with her image in the eyes of others. Her leg "may have been couture," she jokes, "but it certainly wasn't fashionable." Rapp's unrelenting push toward normalcy even takes her to Korea as a Fulbright scholar, where she must fend for herself even with a few hydraulic malfunctions. But she's too sharp and self-aware to either laugh her travails away or admit total defeat. Though she demonstrates daunting reserves of pluck, she isn't afraid to hold the sugarcoating and confront the irresolvable dilemmas. Her piercing metaphors and sudden, unexpected jabs of humor enhance the candid appeal of this "underdog" tale. (Jan.) Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
At the age of six, Rapp (creative writing, Antioch Univ., Los Angeles) was a poster child for the March of Dimes. Born with one leg shorter than the other, she not only endured hip and knee surgery and the amputation of her left foot but was also plagued by chronic pain to her postoperative limb. Then, another type of pain followed rejection because of her wooden leg. Rapp's emotional journey parallels that of Lucy Grealy (Autobiography of a Face), whose face was disfigured from cancer operations. Rapp's skillful detailing of her life from birth to adulthood is sandwiched between a prolog and a surprise ending. One discovers in the prolog that Emily became an overachiever and was a Fulbright scholar. Knowing this keeps the reader trudging through pages detailing her physical and emotional pain. At the book's end, readers will be shocked to learn that Rapp quit her Fulbright scholarship amid panic attacks. A quitter for the very first time, she finally accepted her physical self, which is her triumph. Recommended for public and academic libraries. Dorris Douglass, Williamson Cty. P.L., Franklin, TN Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
School Library Journal

Adult/High School
Rapp was an extraordinary child. Born with a congenital defect, she had her left ankle amputated at the age of four. Four years later, after dozens of surgeries, her entire leg below the knee was gone. Her parents—a Lutheran minister and a nurse—told her she could be anything she wanted. And she tried and reveled in the attention. She became the March of Dimes poster child, an amputee skier, and eventually won a Fulbright Scholarship to Korea. But this is not the story of her achievements. Instead, the book chronicles her poignant journey to make peace with her flaws. In exquisite prose and with keen self-awareness, Rapp imagines how her parents must have reacted to the child born with a deformed leg, the extremes they went to so that she could feel "normal," how much she loved being a poster child, and the church ladies' gifts and visits during her various surgeries. And then came her slow realization that what children had called her—"a cripple" and "peg leg"—was true and she didn't need to do it all. At book's end, Rapp and her parents find a box filled with every prosthetic device she ever wore, from a brace as a toddler to each new artificial limb as she grew to adulthood. It is an illuminating moment in her struggle to accept her disability. Young adults, often obsessed with defects both real and imagined, will identify with the author's need at first to be extraordinary, and then her final acceptance of the imperfect, but valued person she really is.
—Pat BangsCopyright 2006 Reed Business Information.

Kirkus Reviews
Mature and graceful debut memoir about a childhood struggle to be perfect. Born with a congenital bone and tissue disorder, the author had her left foot amputated when she was four and was fitted with an expensive, ugly prosthesis; at eight, after several operations, her entire left leg was removed. Rapp devoted her childhood to excelling, to being brave and smart: If I do everything just right, she reasoned, maybe I can make up for that missing leg. Despite her handicap, she biked and swam. She reveled in the compliments of the ladies at church, always clucking about her courage. She loved being told that she was an "inspiration." But as she entered adolescence, Rapp became more self-conscious. In particular, she worried that she would never catch a man. (She writes with elegance of losing her virginity.) Granted, she had good material to work with. Most people just have to grapple with getting the condom packet open; she had to decide whether or not to remove her leg. During college, her stoicism began to fray, and she wavered under the burden of her own attempts at perfection. In search of a new framework for thinking about disability, she discovered bold theologians who argue that a broken body-Jesus' broken body-sits at the center of Christianity. This should not be viewed only as a disability memoir. It is also a story of the 1970s and '80s (the author's recreation of a popular culture that included stonewashed jeans and too much eyeliner is spot-on), a spiritual memoir of the movement from childhood pieties to adult faith and a confession that will resonate with anyone who spent their youth overcompensating, for whatever reason. Rapp has excelled again: This book is a blessing.
From the Publisher

Poster Child is memoir at its finest. Emily Rapp has crafted a book that's both descriptive and reflective, poignant yet never self-indulgent, with a breathtaking final scene. I point to this book in nonfiction classes now and tell students, "This! This is what you should aspire to!” —Hope Edelman, author of Motherless Daughters

“[Rapp's] cauterizing specificity is compelling, her candor incandescent and her intelligence, courage and spiritual diligence stupendous…measured and resonant…there isn't one false note here.” —Donna Seaman, Los Angeles Times

“You can't put down this excellent memoir…Poster Child beautifully illustrates every human being's sometimes overt, sometimes covert struggle against the intractability of our own physical condition.” —Carolyn See, Washington Post

“Honest and perceptive…Focusing on the challenges she faced as a girl, and later as a young woman, with an artificial leg, the memoir is revelatory and emotional, truthful and empathetic. ” —Christina Eng, San Francisco Chronicle

“Mature and graceful…this book is a blessing.” —Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

“Emily Rapp brilliantly succeeds at communicating the pain, shame and profound strangeness she experienced as a young amputee. [She] writes breathtakingly, almost magically, of the world of wooden legs, silicone feet and metal knee hinges that are made in a filthy workshop by a man who has no soap in his bathroom and dying plants in his waiting room.” —Donna Minkowitz, Newsday

“The best memoirs tell great stories uncovering the nuances of a life and the sometimes extraordinary situations that make it unique. They delve deep into the author's psyche sharing life's unpredictable, painful, and sometimes joyful, moments. Emily Rapp's riveting Poster Child is one such book...Thanks to Rapp's honest, straightforward confessions, we come a little closer to walking in her shoes.” —Mary Houlihan, Chicago Sun-Times

“Everything about Emily is uniquely wonderful: Her memory; her story; her voice; her human insights; her endless strength, honesty and grace; her pitch-perfect prose. My only criticism with this book is that it ended.” —Amy Krouse Rosenthal, author of Encyclopedia of an Ordinary Life

“With a voice as refreshing as spiked lemon ice, authentic, feisty and tender, Poster Child connects us to an unflinching American family and to a guileless young woman who tells her emerging story with luminous self-command. At every quarter turn we follow the narrator's transformations from her first tentative steps and into glittering prisms of personal challenge and explosive discovery. A triumph of warmth, wit, and a fiercely lyric psyche.” —Maria Flook, author of Invisible Eden and My Sister Life

“Emily Rapp tells a revealing and believable story of physical endurance, a fierce will, and the devotion of a remarkable family. Some difficult things in life can never be solved however hard we try, and Emily Rapp's memoir details her congenital defect and the ensuing medical ordeals. Graced with many gifts--intelligence, beauty, and spirit--Emily Rapp's greatest achievement is to help us understand what it really means to be a whole person.” —Laura Furman, author of Drinking with the Cook and series editor of The O.Henry Prize Stories

“The pain of endless surgeries, the fear of never being loved, the longing to be whole in a culture ruled by a heartless obsession with physical perfection. These emotions underlie Emily Rapp's wonderful book, but they don't define it. Poster Child is too much fun to read, too rich with hard-headed detail about everything from the terrors of miniskirts to the mechanics of artificial limbs, to be mistaken for a woeful tale of disability. Here is what it is like to have a daring mind, a full heart--and one leg.” —Stephen Harrigan, author of Challenger Park

Product Details

Bloomsbury USA
Publication date:
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Barnes & Noble
File size:
1 MB

Meet the Author

A former Fulbright scholarship recipient, Emily Rapp has received numerous awards and recognition for her work, including from the Atlantic Monthly, StoryQuarterly, and the Corporation of Yaddo. In 2006 she was the Philip Roth Writerin- Residence at Bucknell University. She is currently a professor in the M.F.A. program at Antioch University Los Angeles.

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