Elevate Difference

Poster Child: A Memoir

The memoir these days can be a forum for the expulsion of demons, the settling of a score, or with more frequency, utter fabrication to gussy up one’s adventures. On occasion, however, the memoir can enlighten, help heal wounds, and inspire the reader.

Poster Child author Emily Rapp was born with a genetic anomaly that led to her left foot being amputated before the age of four, which led to a life of prosthesis. From a literal wooden leg and a foot made for an adult male to state-of-the-art modern legs with hydraulic knees that frequently pass for a natural leg, each step in the author’s journey chronicles the evolution of medical prosthesis. With fairly unflinching detail Rapp tells of being the March of Dimes poster child for Wyoming, where she grew up, and of her deeply religious parents strident devotion to their daughter and her "normal" life. Rapp’s transformation from a smiling child with an artificial limb to an emotionally conflicted teen so conscious of her femininity and body fascism of the American High School Girl that she becomes anorexic is harrowing. All the while the bright student makes strides academically while refusing to deal with the emotional anguish of being different.

A Fulbright Scholar, Rapp‘s sojourns in foreign lands are the only glimpses of her freedom that she discloses. When she allows herself to give in and live in the moment, she soars - only to let a nagging yet unmentioned self-deconstruction wear her down. While in Korea, a tale that bookends the memoir, Rapp finally begins to unravel and deal with the years of emotional constipation that were put upon her as a “poster child” and, upon her return to her parents' home, is finally able to give herself room for catharsis.

Rapp’s writing is, at turns, flat reportage of what must have been horrific ordeals and deft turns of beautiful prose. She is, no doubt, a remarkable woman, a survivor who never treats herself as a victim. Rapp’s view of her parents' dedication to their daughter is striking; so many memoirists use the medium to right wrongs or, in some cases, simply reopen old wounds. The poignancies of her father unearthing a giant box with all of her discarded artificial legs to an adult Emily is a scene of pure poetic beauty.

The book serves as a great state-of-the-union via one person’s experience as a woman with a disability in America. Men can be war wounded and become sexual icons, despite or, in some cases, because of their amputation. Rapp fights with being wounded from a war in her very DNA and, in the process, sheds light in unexpected ways on how America and the world view those with disabilities.

Written by: Andrew Levi Klaus, May 7th 2008