Summary and book reviews of Spinning Straw by Phyllis Green

Spinning Straw

The Jeff Apple Story

by Phyllis J. Green

Spinning Straw
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  • Paperback:
    Jan 1999, 196 pages

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Book Summary

The story of a family in crisis as they struggle to cope with their son's SIB attacks (self-injury), and find help for this otherwise incredibly happy, loving child.

"Mama, Mama, he's hitting himself! His HEAD, Mama, Jeff is HITTING HIMSELF-..." Whirling so fast the skillet skidded noisily to the edge of the stove, I looked toward the dinette and...froze. My beautiful two-year- old was slamming his head against the hard- wood, again and again -...

So Patricia Apple, in the early pages of Spinning Straw, describes her son's first episode of life-long self injury (SIB). Spinning Straw chronicles the life and heart of Jeff, who couldn't stop hurting himself. Diagnosed by various medical experts as autistic, developmentally disabled, severely retarded and suffering from extreme SIB - Jeff's family was able to see the beautiful, happy, loving child that existed behind all these disabilities. This is the story of a family in crisis as they struggled to cope with Jeff's attacks, and find help for this otherwise incredibly happy, loving child.

At times, the story-telling is almost clinical in detail, but this is tempered by first hand accounts of Jeff's SIB attacks, which are written in seemingly scattered thoughts and sentence fragments that place the reader right in the middle of the action. Patricia Apple tells the story, but Phyllis Green's writing has moved this telling into the realm of literature.

Once I started reading, I couldn't put Spinning Straw down. I read the entire book in two sittings - in the midst of the madness of preparations for Christmas and a houseful of out-of-town family.

The story of the Apple family's life with Jeff, as told by Patricia Apple to Phyllis Green, is a sensitive, yet not at all sentimental account. This book goes way beyond the message thing. I think it forces the reader to begin to look at people with special needs in a different light - to see them as human beings capable of giving so much: love, happiness and their own special way of looking at a world that the rest of us tend to take for granted. This book should be mandatory reading for those in decision-making positions, to help them treat children and adults facing extraordinary challenges with compassion, understanding, and love.

The Jeff Apple Story

Before that storm passed, blood dotted Jane's scalp. The other kids had wisely hung back, frozen to whatever temporary shelter each had dived to. . . Grandpa Apple had said to stay in the trailer! "STOP! You're HURTING YOUR SISTER!" someone managed to scream. Suddenly, Jeff seemed to realize what he was doing. He dropped his hands, staring expressionlessly. Jane was almost in too much pain to notice. Within a few seconds, Jeff "went out" again. But this time Jane was able, woozy as she was, to work free. . .Before another explosion could erupt, she raced to the house to phone Mama. . . [Then she] raced back to the RV as I flew for the driveway, carkeys clutched in my sweating palm.

Jeff had calmed down and was now in the house with his grandmother. . .But the scenes I had conjured to the tune of blaring horns and screeching tires were nothing to what I found in that RV. Poor Jane, bloody and half-bald, sobbed in my arms as I surveyed a soggy mishmash...

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Media Reviews

Community Living News

I was unprepared for the power of the book. . .I felt a sense of personal loss [upon reading of Jeff's death].

Author Blurb Elizabeth Hebron, literary editor
I got the book and sat down and read half of it in one afternoon's sitting. . . I love it! I'm not lying when I say I couldn't put it down. Obviously, the subject matter is pretty heavy, but [the] language is wonderful and really makes it a great read. Usually stories of this kind are told from a clinical, cut and dried viewpoint and are as dry as dust. The. . . touch of humor under the compassion really drew me into the lives of these people and allowed me to experience to some degree what the mother was going through as the story unfolds. . . can't wait to finish it!!

Author Blurb Cecil Greene, Ph.D., former director of Pineview Cottage, Murdoch Center, Butner, NC
Finished reading it just before dinner tonight! The last chapter had me bawling. I still love it! . . .such a sensitive, yet not at all sentimental job of telling the story! Very well written. . .takes me back! I am very happy that this book is reaching the public eye. . .

Author Blurb Diane Marty, Director of Public Relations, Park College, Parkville, MO
. . . about halfway through. . .wasn't sure that I liked the conversational style the first chapter or so, but I'm a total convert now, and feel like Pat is practically in the room with me, telling me the story from her lips to my ears. Kudos. . . [keep thinking about] the physical challenges [sleep deprivation, trying to constrain Jeff, trying to function on a normal level in the everyday world as a family...] the Apple family endured), on the verge of tears (more often than not), or -- as in the case of the first chapter on the school, I was just so happy to end the chapter on a good note that I wanted to put the book down and hope against the final outcome that all would end as happily. . .

Author Blurb Katherine Christoffel, Editor [L'Intrigue, Louisiana Poetry Review, et al], Publisher & Essayist
Spinning Straw is a sensational book! It will make a great movie.

Author Blurb Lee Smith.
My hat is off . . .what a wrenching experience [writing Spinning Straw] must have been. And ultimately redemptive, as it is for your readers.

Author Blurb Thomas Fortenberry, Web editor & screenwriter
. . .loved that you used the quotes at the front of each chapter (from Jeff himself to Shakespeare). That was an excellent touch and something that I personally love, as it seems to add a whole other dimension to works. It adds a lot of depth to a story when you see these sidelines. Also, the little Jeff doodle was perfect! What a wondrous human touch in the middle of the book to really place him beside you as you read his story. .. think you have a winner on your hands.

Reader Reviews


Gave me a new perspective - and there's hope.
I have lived this story as my son is also self-injurious and autistic. My heart was breaking for Pat and her family. I was thrilled that she was able to lean on God and found things to celebrate in her situation. Their courage and wonderful ...   Read More

from an elderly woman in Liberty, NC
I cried all the way through. Spinning Staw is a classic!

Rochelle, March 3, 1999
"I couldn't put it down. Spinning Straw made me laugh, wince, and cry. It is more than a story of autistic boy. It shows a family that happens to have a child with a serious handicap. It shows their ups and downs, the ...   Read More

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