Summary and book reviews of Warm Springs by Susan Richards Shreve

Warm Springs

Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven

By Susan Richards Shreve

Warm Springs
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  • Hardcover: Jun 2007,
    224 pages.
    Paperback: Jun 2008,
    240 pages.

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Book Summary

A rich and moving memoir of childhood illness and its aftermath by a member of the last generation of Americans to have experienced childhood polio.

Just after her eleventh birthday, at the height of the frightening childhood polio epidemic, Susan Richards Shreve was sent as a patient to the sanitarium at Warm Springs, Georgia. It was a place famously founded by FDR, "a perfect setting in time and place and strangeness for a hospital of crippled children."

There the young Shreve met Joey Buckley, a thirteen-year-old in a wheelchair who desperately wants to play football for Alabama. The shock of first love and of separation from her fiercely protective mother propels Shreve on a careening course from Warm Springs bad girl to overachieving saint and back again. This indelible portrait of the psychic fallout of childhood illness ends -- like Tobias Wolff's Old School -- with a shocking collision between adolescent drive and genteel institution.

During Shreve's stay at Warm Springs, the Salk vaccine was developed, an event that put an end to a harrowing time for American families. Shreve's memoir is both a fascinating historical record of that time and an intensely felt story of childhood.

Traces

I’m sitting with my legs straight out on an examining table at the Georgia Warm Springs Polio Foundation, where I have just arrived. Four doctors lean over my legs, their elbows on the table, talking back and forth. The doctors are looking for traces.

Traces are little whispers of life in muscles destroyed by the polio virus. They promise the possibility of a new future. My part in this examination, not the first in my life with polio, is to concentrate with all my might on each muscle, one at a time, in the hope that with my undivided attention, there will be a shiver of response and the doctors will rise up, smiling, and announce that the audition has been a success and there is reason for hope.

Muscle to muscle, trace to trace, I am looking for a sign of possibility.

At Warm Springs, traces is the word for hope. When I think of the word “traces” now, it is as a footprint or a shadow or a verb, like “unearth” or “...

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Reviews

BookBrowse

A riveting, raw, miscellany of memories from a bygone era that seems much longer ago than it is - a snapshot of a time and place, and the challenge of living with pain, guilt and loneliness.   (Reviewed by BookBrowse Review Team).

Full Review Members Only (1230 words).

Media Reviews
Entertainment Weekly - Michelle Kung

[W]hile Shreve shares some truly raw recollections, she haphazardly mixes them with typical adolescent anecdotes (sneaking into the boys' ward, crushing on an Irish priest) and erratic historical footnotes, dulling her tale's emotional punch. Grade B.

Chicago Tribune - Alyce Miller

What makes this memoir remarkable is the range of subjects Shreve juggles, including an intriguing history of Warm Springs and Roosevelt's role there, as she places her own experience in the context of '50s America. This book is as much about a time and place as it is about the struggles of a fascinating young woman to know and accept herself.

Booklist - Donna Chavez

Her recollections of the period, the facility, and its staff evoke a time when the U.S. was desperate for solutions to the raging polio pandemic. An appealing memoir and a significant snapshot of an era.

Publishers Weekly

The writing of this beautifully told story is delicate and precise, even as she calls into question her own memories.

Kirkus Reviews

This is a moving portrait of a girl on the cusp of adolescence dealing with pain, guilt and loneliness.

Author Blurb David Oshinksy, author of Polio: An American Story
Susan Shreve's Warm Springs is a gem of a book— an elegantly written, achingly powerful memoir of childhood illness in the terrifying era of polio. Shreve is more than a storyteller; she’s a master at combining history and remembrance in ways that make her characters come alive. Three words best describe Warm Springs: riveting, honest, unforgettable.

Author Blurb Kathryn Harrison author of The Kiss and The Mother Knot
What happens when a fleet and willing - willful - spirit finds herself with a body inadequate to her energy and ambition? In the case of Susan Richard Shreve, a writer was born. One of the last generation of Americans to suffer polio, Shreve reveals how inextricably entwined are our strengths and weaknesses, and that freedom can be as much a state of mind as of circumstance. A lovely book, by a passionate and gallant human being.

Reader Reviews
Nancy

More than I expected
I am being drawn into this wonderful memoir page by page, thought by thought. It's a treasure of a story, about so much more than polio! Susan Richards Shreve is new to me as an author, but I know I will be reading more of her books.

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Beyond the Book

Poliomyelitis, more commonly known as Polio, is a viral disease that has plagued humans since ancient times. It is transmitted primarily through direct fecal-oral contact. However, it can also be transmitted by indirect contact with infectious saliva or feces or by contaminated sewage or water.

In over 90% of cases there are no symptoms but in those who show symptoms the illness takes three forms: Abortive polio in which people experience mild flu-like symptoms; a more serious form ...

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