Review by Suzanne Kamata
The March of Dimes exists to help prevent birth defects, so, in theory, the child featured on the March of Dimes poster is the kind of child that mothers are hoping to avoid. This irony is at the heart of Emily Rapp’s wonderful memoir, Poster Child.
Rapp, who was the designated “poster child” in Albany County, Wyoming, in 1980, was born with one leg significantly shorter than the other. Her condition was caused by something known as proximal focal femoral deficiency (PFFD), a genetic mutation for which Rapp’s mother was hardly responsible. Typically, PFFD is managed by amputation. Rapp’s leg was cut off and she learned to walk, run, ski, and dance in a prosthetic.
As poster child, Rapp is showered with attention. She writes “I felt like the winner of a beauty contest, although I had received my title for an attribute that was certainly not coveted by others. I didn’t care because I loved the attention. I felt like a star.”
In later years, Rapp continues to seek attention through academics, writing draft after draft of papers that other students might dash off the night before the due date. She becomes a high achiever, a young woman afraid of failure. Sometimes she even manages to pass as “typically abled.” Although she finds acceptance among fellow amputees, she is repelled by others with disabilities.
Rapp writes with wisdom and beauty about her on-going attempt to come to terms with her body. In doing so, she exposes us to a hidden culture and reminds us that there is no such thing as normal.
Suzanne Kamata is the author of Losing Kei and the editor of the anthologies The Broken Bridge: Fiction from Expatriates in Literary Japan and Love You to Pieces: Creative Writers on Raising a Child with Special Needs.