Joni (by Joni Eareckson Tada)

It’s many years since I last read the original autobiography of Joni Eareckson (now Joni Eareckson Tada). She is an amazing person, now in her sixties, who was paralysed from the neck downwards in an accident in her late teens. She has written a large number of books and is still a popular speaker.

The book ‘Joni’ is subtitled, ‘The unforgettable story of a young woman’s struggle against quadriplegia and depression.’ I knew the outline of her story even when I first read it, probably some time in the 1980s. Reading it again in the past few days, there were no surprises in store, even though I had forgotten many of the details. But it’s a powerful story.

In a sense this isn’t a direct autobiography. It’s told more like a novel, at first. We meet Joni at the start of the book when she feels as if she is drowning after bumping her head, until she is rescued by one of her sisters. Joni, we learn, was full of energy and daring, living life to the full, at least in a physical sense. So it’s a huge shock to her system to find herself in hospital, unable to move anything other than her head - unable even to feel anything below neck level. From dreams of college and independence, she is entirely dependent on the hospital staff, and not at all sure whether she will survive.

The rest of the book charts her progress, including two operations, and a great deal of pain. The emotional pain is even worse; she feels useless, deeply depressed, and determined not to survive. She becomes angry with God, then unsure whether or not He exists - when she is able to read (with assistance) she studies agnostic and atheist philosophers and gets into debate with folk around her.

Eventually she accepts that she will not walk again - the details of this are explained, along with her gradual acceptance of the situation and renewed faith in God. We also see her tentative forays into the world of art and her first - unexpected - public speaking. it’s a dramatic story and she is fortunate to have been surrounded by loving family and friends who encourage her and never allow her to despair entirely.

It’s a powerful story, and Joni’s battles with depression and other problems are clearly documented from her point of view, openly and honestly. This book has been of immense help to others in similar situations, seeing light where it appeared that there was nothing ahead but a void.

My only slight reservation with the book is the amount of ‘preaching’. It’s not that I disagree with the principles; as a Christian believer myself, I fully understand how Joni’s faith was challenged, and the importance of her dedicating her life again to Jesus. Certain of the Scripture verses quoted are significant in her journey, and the discussions are rarely trite: she has to learn that God does not always heal in a physical sense, at least not in this world.

But at times it seemed there was too much direct exposition, written in rather stilted conversational form, that did not feel realistic or particularly helpful. Perhaps it’s more valuable to those who are not already aware of these principles, and yet my suspicion is that many would find them offputting, and would have preferred a bit more subtlety.

With that proviso, I found this book well-written and well-paced, and enjoyed it very much. It was republished in the early 2000s and is still in print in the US. Various other editions can often be found inexpensively second-hand.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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