Life is a miraculous thing, particularly when you consider the millions of things in our DNA that have to code correctly for it to happen at all. Unfortunately, it’s also incredibly easy for something to go wrong leaving some people with terminal illnesses, deformities, and genetic predispositions to problems later in life. Jennifer Hale was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of two. There Are No Alligators in Heaven is her biography as told through her writings as well as a detailed series of interviews with her parents.
This is a book that manages to be many things: a heartfelt biography, a record of cystic fibrosis treatments over the last few decades, a self-help parenting guide to parents of children with cystic fibrosis, and most importantly, a celebration of life. Through the words of Donna and Evan Codell readers are led through Jennifer’s whole life, from birth to death, and a little beyond. They paint a picture of a normal family, refusing to whitewash their experience or leave out the darker times and struggles, the personality clashes, or the various illnesses and their complications. By including things such as the less than happy family life Evan experienced growing up and Donna’s panic attacks, the book makes their lives and experiences tangible and much more relatable than many other highly sanitized biographies and memoirs.
Mechanically speaking the book is easy to read. The sections taken from writings are easily discerned from the verbal interview between Donna and Evan, and the book is divided into clear sections that are easy to navigate. The last third of the book includes Jennifer’s articles that were originally published by the CF Roundtable and give a chance for readers to really read about Jennifer’s experience with cystic fibrosis in her own words. The book does contain a few typos (whoa instead of woe) and formatting errors (missing hyphens, and other irregular punctuation), however, these issues aren’t too terribly distracting. The book does also contain family photos, which are unfortunately quite blurry and appear only in black and white, although it is impossible to say if that is due to the printer, a poor scan, the fault of not using better quality paper for an image section, or due to the quality of the original images.
This is not a biography with a happy ending, but even so, it is one that manages to be inspiring and is well worth the read.
Whitney Smyth received a Master’s in Book Publishing and Technical Writing at Portland State University, following a Bachelor’s in English at the University of Arizona. She took over ownership of Portland Book Review in December of 2014. She also works as a freelance editor and can be commissioned at Smyth Editorial Services and spends what little free time she has on her own writing. Coming from a family of readers she devours an average of one hundred books a year, in a variety of genres. Her favorite authors are far too numerous to list, but include Alexandre Dumas, Mary Shelley, Jim Butcher, and John Green.
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