In 1989, at the age of 12, Avery was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. She was also a promising pianist. This excellent memoir illuminates both elements of her life with equal dignity and insight. Readers will gladly follow along as the author, now an English teacher in Phoenix, Ariz., recounts a detailed description of her symptoms, treatments, and the numerous medical procedures she endured. The memoir is also a love story to playing the piano, which Avery began when she was seven years old. The author notes she had a “few years’ grace” before the disease severely interfered with her playing. Her battle was both physical and psychological. After failing a piano exam, Avery explains, “I was fine with having arthritis myself, but for the first time I had infected the music. Now it was arthritic, too.” Avery delves into how her disease complicated the normal chaotic process of growing up, dating, sex, and college. She also deftly narrates the remarkable stories of Paul Wittgenstein, a one-armed pianist, and Franz Schubert, who composed his sonata in B-flat while dying from syphilis, revealing how she used these men’s stories and music as sources of inspiration. Her story offers inspiration, and education on building a beautiful and meaningful life even when what you love most slips away. (May)
"Readers will be rooting for Avery as she builds a life she can cherish regardless of her symptoms."
"A brave and honest memoir. An astonishing and thought-provoking book. Highly recommended. Sonata has something in it to help you fight. Avery is a wonderful writer, and her book is written with truth, grace, and a lot of wit."
"Beautifully written, deeply thought and felt. The interweaving of music and disability works extremely well throughout, and Avery describes life with disability in a moving, engrossing way, and without giving way to any of the punishing tropes that bedevil not only outsider account of disability but even lots of first-person narratives."
"Andrea writes like a clever, cunning, confident angel. She’s a natural, and her realness and grace are lovely to behold."
"[Avery is] not afraid to embrace a both a hip tone peppered with slang and references from her favorite grunge bands, as well as the academic elegance of research and her mother's copious medical notes. Relatable to most every reader, she extends to us the same encouragement as the teachers she takes after to ‘put some oomph in it!’"
"Remarkable. By so eloquently sharing her own ‘scars,’ Andrea Avery enriches us all."
"When pure bad luck forces a talented person to go to Plan B, how does that person create a life that’s richer, happier, and more fulfilled than Plan A? Andrea’s book answers that question. It is a smart, moving, and funny testimony to the sturdiness of the human will."
"Despite her devastating condition, Avery makes it clear that her illness does not define who she is. She may be always sick, but, as she notes, she is not ‘sickly.’ A moving memoir of living with pain, and with music."
"Subdued and introspective, Sonata examines the ‘cruel synchrony to be gifted with music and arthritis nearly simultaneously’—the aftermath of hopes and dreams erased before fully realizing one’s potential and the connective force of music in our lives."
Despite her devastating condition, Avery makes it clear that her illness does not define who she is. She may be always sick, but, as she notes, she is not ‘sickly.’ A moving memoir of living with pain, and with music.
A high school English teacher, musician, and essayist emotionally and analytically chronicles her journey through the tangled wood of rheumatoid arthritis.Avery enjoyed about 12 years of "normal" life before the disease began to manifest itself, and she received her stern diagnosis in 1989. She was a gifted pianist, but the disease attacked her body relentlessly, including, of course, her hands. In this debut memoir, the author organizes her text like a sonata—in movements, each of which has chapters—and her love of music is patent on almost every page. Late in the book is one dazzling paragraph about an insensitive physical therapist, a paragraph into which she has inserted cues for musical instruments. Appearing like motifs are Schubert, Mozart, Wittgenstein, and others, whose words and biographies appear continually. The author also alludes to and quotes from texts about music and illness and mentions numerous others for various expository reasons—e.g., Flannery O'Connor and Susan Sontag—but it's a particular Schubert sonata that appeals to her in youth and beyond. Avery also writes frankly about her family (parents divorced, etc.) and her older siblings, one of whom the author viewed as a competitor. The initial bitterness eventually sweetens, and her tone is more conciliatory near the end. But as much as this is the story of Avery's mind and psychology, it is even more so the story of her adjustments to her traitorous body, to how people perceive her, that composes the capacious heart of this narrative. Through it all—her body's betrayals, the numerous and various surgeries—we see a bright, determined person trying to come to peace with herself and with a world that is not always kind. A wrenching account of a writer determined to maintain the music of her life in whatever forms are possible.