"Off Balanced" tells the story of Zachary Fenell, a student in Ohio with mild cerebal palsy.
In the introduction, Zachary gives detailed information about how cerebral palsy has affected him. "The vulnerable state created by cerebral palsy makes growing up with CP difficult. You stick out from everyone else at an age where all you want is to blend in and be like everyone else. Bullies find you an easy target, leaving you susceptible to both physical and verbal abuse You might notice your peers pointing at you and calling you "retarded," even though your grades are a whole grade point level higher than those spewing the insults."
Zachary relates that while in elementary school life was easy. At that age, he and his peers didn't understand cerebral palsy. He describes a defining moment when a peer asks him "Why do you walk funny?" He wondered if he did, in fact, walk "funny." And if so - why?
The majority of the book centers on his junior high and high school years most of his social challenges come forward. He remembers a time when he was finally old enough to understand his disability all too well. Sleep-overs and sneaking in to R Rated movies with his friends, or going on dates like his peers, became staying home playing video games by himself.
Zachary explains to the reader that his own lack of self respect gave the appearance to his peers and others that he was unfriendly. Wallowing in self pity instead of initiating conversation made building friendships difficult. "Having CP left me feeling inferior, as if I was damaged goods compared to everyone else. Through avoiding discussions about my disability I hoped I could just blend in. Staying secretive, however, worsened the situation by creating an awkward aura. Or, at least that is how I perceived the situation."
With continual hovering from his parents, constant physical and occupational therapies and numerous surgeries, it's easy to understand how he became engrossed in his own condition. A teenage rush was his motivation to strengthen his body so he could in turn redue the need for special accommodations such as his cane, early release from classes so navigating the halls was easier and using the stairs in place of the elevator. Zachary even shares his hilarious internal debates on what he would say to his crush if he was confident enough.
"Off Balanced" is not all self-pity and woes. His high school newspaper The Arc light which spawned a career in writing that he carried with him to Notre Dame University. This book leaves the reader wondering where his journey goes. Will he find love? Will he continue to write? Hopefully one day we will find out.
Interested in more ability-related books? Check out January's Book of the Month Club choices from the Autism Family Resource Center and also December's Holiday Reading List! And if you have a book you think we should read, please leave a suggestion in our comments.