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Bookfoolery (Mississippi) reviewJanuar 8, 2009
I Choose to be Happy by Missy Jenkins
with William Croyle
240 pages, incl. endnotes
Review originally posted at http://bookfoolery.blogspot.com/2009/01/i-choose-to-be-happy-by-missy-jenkins.html
I Choose to be Happy is the true story of how one school-shooting victim has dealt with the life-changing aftermath of being shot and paralyzed from the chest down. Missy Jenkins was standing in a prayer circle in West Paducah, Kentucky's Heath High School lobby when fellow student Michael Carneal walked into the lobby and began shooting at random in December of 1997. Three girls were killed and five more students injured. Of those injuries, Missy's was the worst and her recovery involved many months of healing and physical therapy.
Missy takes the reader right to the scene -- from the time she left home, totally oblivious to how her life was about to change, through her difficult recovery and grueling therapy, all the way up to the birth of her first child. She describes how she quickly forgave her attacker and how she has stayed positive in spite of major life changes that will never go away. Of particular interest is the fact that Missy says everything she has done and become has resulted because of her injury. She describes her life in the spotlight and how she overcame her natural shyness because she felt her story needed to be shared.
Because she's a Christian and she relied on her faith to get her through difficult times, I Choose to be Happy does have a definite Christian perspective. It was her faith that Missy says allowed her to forgive Michael quickly and -- although she still puzzles over what caused him to shoot his fellow students and is very concerned that his attempt to get his case retried could end up in the release of a disturbed man -- she has a surprisingly gentle way of viewing her attacker. Missy even describes how much she admired him before the day of the shooting.
I didn't find that the author tried to convert anyone or force her opinion on them; her Christianity is simply a part of who she is, though, and she does talk about how she came to be a Christian and how it influenced her decisions and actions, including the refusal to join in on a lawsuit against Michael's family. The book is a quick read and not easy. You are so firmly planted in her shoes that you can't help but wipe away tears when you read about the graphic details of the shooting and the difficulty each of the students and families had in dealing with their losses. In that way, it's a gut-wrenching read; but, at the same time amazing to read how Missy turned her tragedy into opportunity and has used her experience to help others.
Does this mean everybody should forgive no matter what and as quickly as I forgave Michael? I wish I could confidently say yes to both of those questions, but I can't. I can't preach to people that they should always forgive because I haven't experienced every situation. If your child is killed by a drunken driver, should you forgive the driver? If your parents are murdered, should you forgive the murderer? If you are raped, should you forgive the rapist? I don't think anybody can answer those questions honestly without actually being in those situations.
Highly recommended and I found the book gripping, but be prepared for the inside look into life as a paraplegic. It's not pretty and occasionally I almost felt like saying, "Too much information!" However, I think when Missy describes the details of something like her bathroom routine, she does so with a purpose -- to help people understand the true impact a few moments of violence can have on one person's entire lifetime.