3 out of 4 stars
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What could possibly combine several major surgeries, the misadventures of a small-town girl in New York City, an off-beat silent-acting career, assorted klutzy mishaps, and one colorful trip to the haunted hotel that inspired The Shining? Why, the quirky memoir of Katharine Houston-Voss, of course! The preceding list does not do justice to the absorbing, surprising collection of personal stories contained in Katharine’s autobiography, aptly titled Loving Every Awkward Step: A Humorous Memoir About Clubfoot, Life Choices and Surviving Being Different. What started as an effort to journal about her experience of “surviving being different” blossomed over 10 years into a full-on manuscript.
Born with clubfoot and metatarsus varus (the first term of many this book prompted me to Google), the author underwent her first foot surgery before the age of two, and several more painful procedures followed over the decades. As a result of her condition, she alternately wore different types of braces and relied on crutches, canes, or wheelchairs post-surgery. As anyone with a disability or visible deformity can attest, this draws constant and mostly unwanted attention. How the author coped - and continues to cope - with “the staring” and uncomfortable questions is an interesting thread that runs through her work.
This book is far from a one-trick pony, though. Katharine explores the complexities of life on all fronts: family, love, career, and self-expression through art, to name a few. As the reader, I was a transfixed rollercoaster passenger, moved to tears, indignance, empathetic pride, or belly laughter with nearly every page - sometimes all in the same chapter! Katharine’s style is flowing and conversational as if she’s relating her story to a friend without heavy forethought, which made for smooth reading. Equally enjoyable was her sassy sense of humor and (sometimes dark) irony, the kind that develops when your circumstances have forced you to either embrace bitterness or snarkiness, and you’ve chosen the latter.
This tone simultaneously keeps Loving Every Awkward Step from ever feeling whiny or sickeningly positive. On the contrary, the overall tone is hopeful and grateful, as evidenced by many of the stories related, which results in some very quotable excerpts. For example, for a short time in her childhood, the author had to ride the “short bus” to school following surgery, which put her face-to-face with other kids who were arguably worse off than herself. What started out as embarrassment at being forced to ride the handicap-accessible bus rapidly morphed into amazement at the open-mindedness and kindness exhibited by these kids. Following this story, the author sums up what she learned:
While this may illustrate some kind of emotional deficiency on my part, I really enjoyed Katharine’s stories of personal mishaps, which were related with the sensitivity of a true slapstick performer. At one point, while out skiing (one of the few sports she could participate in as a kid), she lost control. Katharine continues:“Some people need more help than others, and those people are just as wonderful as everyone else.”
The author's frustration with trying to fit in ultimately resulted in her discovery of acting as a creative outlet, and she entertainingly relates her journey through acting school, facing frequent rejection (It seems you can’t get signed as a leading lady unless you can get around in high heels.), considering a boob job, and ultimately accepting herself and finding her own zany niche onstage with other talented oddballs. This book weaves many threads, from relationships with parents to becoming a parent, from single-life loneliness to love, from self-doubt to self-acceptance, and from resignation to triumph. The resulting tapestry feels very raw, honest, and real.“My skis found their way down the hill, without me, and one pole stood straight up in the snow like the national flag for the uncoordinated.”
One disclaimer: It pains me to list the faults of this book, as it resonated with me deeply - I have cerebral palsy and foot deformities of my own. However, Loving Every Awkward Step is not perfect. There were many issues related to editing, including but not limited to misused and misplaced commas, hyphens, apostrophes, and capitalization; formatting issues; subject-verb disagreement; typos; missing words; incorrect tense; and missing or incorrect closing punctuation. These issues have forced me to remove a star from my rating, but I sincerely hope they won’t deter anyone from reading the book, which I award 3 out of 4 stars.
I recommend Loving Every Awkward Step, by Katharine Houston-Voss, to all humans trying to figure themselves out, except those who don’t enjoy biographical works or very young or sensitive readers who object to any profanity or suggestive content. Ultimately, this book is a compelling story of one person squaring up with what it means to be human. And we’re all a little off, so we can all relate. I have to thank Katharine Houston-Voss for dispelling my ignorance of clubfoot, making me laugh, and forcing me to ask: Do our limits define us, or do we define our limits? When it comes to her memoir, I loved every awkward page!
Loving Every Awkward Step
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