Review: Carry On by Lisa Fenn

Review: Carry On by Lisa FennCarry On: a Story of Resilience, Redemption, and an Unlikely Family by Lisa Fenn
Format: eARC
Source: publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: autobiography, sports biography
Pages: 256
Published by Harper Wave on August 16th 2016
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository

In the spirit of The Blind Side and Friday Night Lights comes a tender and profoundly moving memoir about an ESPN producer’s unexpected relationship with two disabled African-American wrestlers from inner-city Cleveland, and how these bonds—blossoming, ultimately, into a most unorthodox family—would transform their lives.
When award-winning ESPN producer Lisa Fenn returned to her hometown for a story about two wrestlers at one of Cleveland’s toughest public high schools, she had no idea that the trip would change her life. Both young men were disadvantaged students with significant physical disabilities. Dartanyon Crockett, the team’s best wrestler, was legally blind as a result of Leber’s disease; Leroy Sutton lost both his legs at eleven, when he was run over by a train. Brought together by wrestling, they had developed a brother-like bond as they worked to overcome their disabilities.
In their time developing the segment together, Fenn formed a profound connection with Dartanyon and Leroy. After earning their trust and their love, she realized she couldn’t just walk away when filming ended. These boys had had to overcome the odds too many times. Instead, Fenn dedicated herself to ensuring their success long after the reporting wqs finished and the story aired—and an unlikely family of three was formed.
The years ahead would be fraught with complex challenges, but Fenn stayed with the boys every step of the way—teaching them essential life skills, helping them heal old wounds and traumatic pasts, and providing the first steady and consistent support system they’d ever had.
This powerful memoir is one of love, hope, faith, and strength—a story about an unusual family and the courage to carry on, even in the most extraordinary circumstances.

My Review:

This isn’t the kind of book I usually read. But I heard the author speak at the American Library Association Annual Conference this year, and something about her story grabbed me. I picked up an ARC, and when the opportunity to join this tour came up, I remembered her speech, and her passion, and decided it was time to find out what she was talking about.

I didn’t watch the original video until just before writing this review. I think it is even more poignant now than it would have been earlier, knowing what I know about the story behind the story. It is a captivating film, and well worth watching. But it is only the beginning of the story, and not the end.

We see a brief portrait like the one that Lisa Fenn did of Dartanyon Crockett and Leroy Sutton back in 2009 and think that it tells us enough to find a way to solve the problem. In some ways, it’s like seeing footage of a natural disaster, and being moved to donate money to help the survivors.

Because that’s what Dartanyon and Leroy both are, survivors. But the often disastrous circumstances that made up their lives were not so easily solved. As Lisa Fenn discovered.

There are two stories in this book. One is the history that led up to Lisa going back home to Cleveland with her ESPN camera crew to film this amazing story of friendship and turn it into an award winning documentary. In order to tell the story of who the two young men had come to be, she had to dive back into all the circumstances that made them who they are. Not just Leroy’s tragic accident and Dartanyon’s congenital blindness, but the circumstances that made life so often precarious in poverty. A cycle that, even with the best will in the world, and all the resources made available by people touched by the video, proved incredibly resistant to cracking. And that’s the second story.

Lisa was supposed to remain distant and unattached. That’s what journalists do. She was supposed to tell the story, not become the story. They touched her heart in ways that she never expected, and she broke all the rules to help give them a chance to succeed beyond their wildest expectations.

It wasn’t easy for any of them, and it was often a journey of two steps forward and one step back, and sometimes the other way around. But it is a journey that compels the reader to follow, every step of the way.

Escape Rating A-: I didn’t expect to like this as much as I did. Instead of picking it up and putting it down for a couple of days, instead I picked it up and never put it down until I reached the end of the story. Which isn’t really an end. All of the principals in Carry On live on, in lives that have changed dramatically because of the events told here.

Having heard the author speak, I knew the trajectory of her account before I read it, and I still found it completely absorbing. This is not an easy story, and it is a story that will make you think, but it will draw you in and spit you out at the end, wrung out with emotion.

There was one thing that put this reader off. It is something that many readers will probably feel for, or believe more. Belief being the key. There is an evangelical tone to some of the story. The author commits herself to this cause at some points because she believes it is what she is called to do. Her faith is tangible to her, and a significant part of her story. But while I accept that this is what she believes, it is so far out of my own worldview that I find these points a bit jarring. Your mileage, of course, may vary.

If you are looking for a heartbreaking, heartwarming and uplifting story, Carry On is a great one.

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