My friend Amy from LeShallowGal (one of my favorite blogs) recently recommended a book to me: Warm Springs: Traces of a Childhood at FDR's Polio Haven, by Susan Richards Shreve. Shreve is a Washington, DC-based writer and I've seen reviews and displays of this book around, but hadn't really focused on it. Sounds like it's a compelling history lesson combined with a poignant coming-of-age story – what more could you want?
Novelist Shreve recollects her years spent from ages 11 to 13 at Warm Springs Polio Foundation in Georgia: "Traces are little whispers of life in muscles destroyed by the polio virus." The traces of this eloquently written memoir, however, are not merely physical; they are the whispers of the time, brief glimpses into the social climate of the 1950s, into the religious longing of a lonely young girl hoping for a connection, into the mindset of the president who led the country despite a debilitating handicap. While the events take place as Shreve recovers from surgeries that would allow her to walk better, polio becomes a minor character; her friendships with the others in the facility, her innocent romance with a fellow patient and her growing attraction to the priest take center stage as she tries to make herself into a "good" girl:
From the N.Y. Times review of Warm Springs:
Shreve is a novelist who has approached her story with a reporter’s eye. She has done her research on polio and Warm Springs, weaving the history of this once-dread disease unobtrusively into her own. But it is the due diligence she has done on her own young self — re-examining the girl she was from the perspective of the woman she has become (“the truth of this story is in the way I see it now”) and fitting that girl back into a time and a place a half-century gone — that distinguishes Warm Springs from so many of the vertical-pronoun bores arriving at bookstores these days.
You can hear or watch Susan Shreve talking to WGBH about Warm Springs here.