Thursday, December 31, 2009

Book Review - Double Take: A Memoir

Title: Double Take
Author: Kevin Michael Connolly
ISBN: 978-0-06-179153-6
Pages: 240
Release Date: October 10, 2009
Publisher: Harper Studio.
Genre: Memoir
Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Summary: Kevin Michael Connolly is a twenty-three-year-old who has seen the world in a way most of us never will. Whether swarmed by Japanese tourists at Epcot Center as a child or holding court at the X Games on his mono-ski as a teenager, Kevin has been an object of curiosity since the day he was born without legs. Growing up in rural Montana, he was raised like any other kid (except, that is, for his father’s MacGyver-like contraptions such as the “butt boot”). As a college student, Kevin traveled to seventeen countries on his skateboard and, in an attempt to capture the stares of others, he took more than 30,000 photographs of people staring at him. In this dazzling memoir, Connolly casts the lens inward to explore how we view ourselves and what it is to truly see another person. We also get to know his quirky and unflappable parents and his spunky girlfriend. From the home of his family in Helena, Montana to the streets of Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur, Connolly’s remarkable journey will change the way you look at others, and the way you see yourself.

My Thoughts: I read about Double Take: A Memoir by Kevin Michael Connolly in the Shelf Awareness Newsletter and jumped at the chance to read an ARC of the book. I was intrigued by Connolly's photo project, The Rolling Exhibition, as well as his participation in the X Games. Connolly traveled around the world taking pictures of people staring at him as he toured their town, village or city on his skateboard. I am also physically disabled, thus, am also very familiar with being stared down and stared at. Whether I am walking on crutches or in a wheelchair, there are always people who cannot stop gaping at my scarred and bowed legs. Being intrigued to read about the experiences of a man who grew up without legs, you can imagine my surprise and disappointment when Kevin Michael Connolly doesn't write about his X Games experiences, and gives few details about his travels and his photo project! Connolly includes pictures from his exhibition in the memoir, for example, along with a blurb about the exhibition on the back cover but not little else about this terrific accomplishment.

Double Take: A Memoir focuses on the author coming to terms with being a man without legs, what that means for him and its impact on other people. Connolly's parents are strong, full of love and willing to do whatever it took to make sure, growing up, Connolly's life was as normal a life as possible. He also has the love and support of his two sisters, two sets of grandparents and other family members. Connolly's mother always told him: "This isn't just your show". But it takes Connolly many years to understand what his mother is saying.

His normal life at home didn't apply at school where Connolly realized that he was different from the other children. He wanted to be included, like most children, and to participate in the same sports as his friends, but he wasn't able to, despite some very valiant efforts. Then Connolly's father helped him get involved in mono-skiing which means using a single ski or board rather than two skis. One ski makes it very difficult to balance, turn or stop, which resulted in a few concussions and other minor injuries to the author while he learned the sport. But Connolly soon excelled although he doesn't tell his readers how well. And once he tasted victory, everything in Connolly's life became about winning. He wanted to be the best, go the farthest and get the girl. Connolly tells the readers that he saw every task as a competition and he didn't want to lose. Connolly became driven to succeed. His single-minded purpose blinded him to other important things in his life such as his family. But it would be quite a while before the author realized that there's more to life than winning..

While in college, Connolly replaced mono-ski racing with travel, determined to see as many places as possible regardless of limited funds and his disability. At some point, irritated by people's stares and other reactions, Connolly began taking pictures of the people he encountered. It soothed his irritation and made Connolly feel he had the upper-hand. The picture-taking became a project that provided Connolly additional impetus to see as many countries as possible. But, after seeing a victim of the war while in Sarajevo, the author began to feel guilty about taking the pictures, wondering about the effect he was having on the people who saw him on the street. It felt narcissistic and self-serving to Connolly. His girlfriend, traveling with him, pointed out that he's not hurting anyone by taking their picture. The pictures show people with guilt, pity, sadness, joy, shame and surprise on their faces. Connolly realized that they're as curious about him as he is about them, making the picture project cathartic. In other words, he doesn't feel victimized when he has his camera with him..

Connolly writes honestly about the emotional turmoil he experiences while trying to figure out who he is and where he belongs in this world. By the time Connolly returns home from his travels, he has learned quite a bit about himself and the world. He is no longer blinded to the good things in his life by his single-minded purpose to win at everything. He realizes there is more to life than winning and he is happy to see his family again. Connolly has a very good sense of humor and no longer takes himself too seriously. But I wish he had written a chapter about competing in the X games and told us more about his photo project and how it came to be The Rolling Exhibition. I appreciate that Connolly shares his journey from being the legless boy to a man who happens not to have legs. And for me, personally, he has given me a different perspective from which to view the people who stare at me on the street. So, despite a lack of detail in the more important areas of his life, Connolly provides wonderful and important insight into what it's like to be different. Perhaps a follow-up is in order to fill in the blanks of this memoir, as well as to keep us updated about a very special person who's found the ability to write his way into our collective consciousness.


  1. This sounds like a fascinating book, and I can see why you would have been drawn to it. Perhaps it didn't quite live up to what you had hoped it would be, but without a doubt this guy would have plenty of perspective! Great review Amy!

  2. Sounds like an amazing book Amy.

    Hope that you have a Happy and Healthy New Year. May all they books that your read in 2010 be terrific.

  3. I agree with Sandy, this sounds like such a worthwhile story. A friend of mine's son was diagnosed with a degenerative disorder that will eventually mean he is confined to a wheelchair. The boy is 9 years old and having a hard time coming to terms with his illness--which is totally understandable. His mother has gone out of her way to find role models for him so he knows that just because he may not walk one day, doesn't mean his life will be over.

  4. I think the author sounds very brave to share his story. I'm sure his life hasn't been easy. Thanks for your review.

  5. Wow-this sounds like an amazing book. Happy New Year-your book arrived today-thank you so much-I owe you an email-it just took me a two days to get home with cancelled flights-more than once may I add.

  6. It is a shame he didn't provide more details on some of the more fascinating areas of his life ... perhaps he will have another book. It sounds fascinating and inspiring regardless. And I love that he turned the camera on the people who stared at him.

  7. Amy Check your emails-I sent you a couple.