Friday, 13 January 2012

Off Balanced by Zachary Fenell

Zach sent me a free copy of Off Balanced. It's his self published ebook memoir of life as a teen with CP. In the UK it's available on Kindle.. In the US it's on both Kindle and Nook.

In the interests of being fair, here is the synopsis. However I strongly disagree with some of the statements made about CP within it. I'm also not sure this is the best summary as it focuses on the CP aspects and to me it read more as being about life than about CP. Although for those of us with CP it does have a big impact on our lives.

Off Balanced dives into the thoughts of a teenager with the neurological disability cerebral palsy. Just like how CP can throw one off balance physically, the condition can create mental unsteadiness. Learn how poor balance, muscle tightness, and other cerebral palsy symptoms influence the emotional teenage mindset. From coping with the disability and relating to classmates to building self-confidence and making friends discover first hand insight about teenage life with CP. For teens troubled by cerebral palsy Off Balanced lets you know you are not alone. Additionally the memoir demonstrates to able-bodied youths how big their smallest actions can be.

I liked this because I like connecting and sharing experiences with other disabled people (and particularly those with CP). From reading Off Balanced I have the impression that this is something Zach didn't experience growing up. I think that's a shame. From the tips and tricks only another disabled person can share to the companionship of spending time with people who "get" disability there's a lot to be said for spending time in the disabled community both on and off line and knowing you aren't alone. We're definitely a powerful community when we work together each doing the little bit we can. Just this week the Spartacus Report has shown that.

Something I don't understand is Zach trying to hide his CP as a child. But then as a wheelchair user I've never had that option. It's something I've noticed in several of the disability memoirs I've read - that theme of hating and hiding then accepting it and almost coming out as a crip. I wonder why that is? I'll have to blog more about that I think.

As a writer I've heard a lot of debate about what is a book? What's a novel? How many words or pages before you can say that's what you've written? I've never seen a standard definition or heard any agreement and I really don't think it's an argument that can ever be settled. Nor do I think it should be. Some of the best books I've read have been incredibly short. Others have been over 1000 pages and just as good.

I mention this because although Zachary packs a lot in, Off Balanced is very short (the PDF review copy I received is approx 65 pages). Once or twice it felt like things were being rushed or glossed over a little and I certainly had expected it to be at least twice the length it is. Treatments he had are mentioned in passing only which intrigued me as they would have been a big part of any memoir I wrote about the impact of CP on life. Botox, physio, splints etc to me are the big things which make a CPer different so Zach's omitting to mention them fully interests me. I'd love to know why.

The book is good at explaining things in a way that doesn't overwhelm or get too technical. When things like surgeries and baclofen are a part of your normal it can be easy to forget that there are people who don't know what they are. Getting the terms and their explanations in without turning people off is well done. In a few places however the writing in general needed a bit of tightening up. I had to read a couple of sentences a few times to make sense of them as they felt wrong to me.

Off Balanced shows what life was like for Zachary growing up and does it well. It would be a good starting point for anyone wanting to learn about being disabled (although there are several blogs which also do that including - I hope - this one). I think there's definite potential there and I'd love to see it expanded with more content and edited.


Neil said...

I received a copy of Zach's book to review also. I too am someone with CP and, like you, found it interesting how much his life differed from mine.

Fenell does indeed seem to focus more on the adolescent experience as opposed to the *disabled* one. Zach is someone who writes about (and Tweets about) disability news & stories daily so, yes, I did expect a bit more focus on the disability side of things. The book is well-written but short and I would have liked to read more about his own disability in greater detail.

FYI, I have my own book & blog at


Ruth Madison said...

I've started reading it, but I'm finding it disappointing. A lot of telling, not so much showing. The opening has no actual stories, just philosophizing, which is making it extremely difficult to get into.

Zachary Fenell said...

I thank Emma for her honest review. I address many of her criticisms in my most recent blog post. Before writing off Off Balanced completely, I ask you, Emma's readers, to visit my blog and read my response.

Nick said...

Great Review. I like to read inspiring books. Zach's Book is just that. Great Read.


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