Saturday, April 4, 2015

Review: Head Case by Cole Cohen

We all have things we do well and things we don't do as well. I am an English and Humanities girl while my sister is a Math and Science girl. This is just the way we are, the way our brains work. When I read about Cole Cohen's inability to tell her right from her left, the way she's spent her whole life getting lost or disoriented, that she has no sense of time, and that she gets math problems wrong in new and unique ways each time she attempts them, among other things, I realized I was reading about a kindred spirit. My own issues with these difficulties are of a much smaller magnitude than hers though, as her memoir, Head Case, about the discovery that she has a large hole in her brain where her parietal lobe should be makes clear. Mine are clearly just quirks, sometimes annoying quirks for sure, but hers is a documented case of complete absence.

All her life Cole Cohen has had trouble with things that other people learn with ease. As a child, her spatial and temporal difficulties were chalked up to a changing list of learning disabilities. But none of these diagnoses were the right one as she discovers when she is on the verge of leaving for graduate school. In an effort to get to the bottom of why she is completely incapable of learning to drive or to handle her own finances, in addition to the other problems she's had to fight to overcome or mitigate with coping strategies for her entire life, Cole submits to many tests but no one is more shocked when an MRI shows that she has a hole the size of a lemon in her brain. If this had been the result of a stroke or an accident, it would likely have rendered her incapacitated, but because it seems to have happened organically, she is spared the otherwise likely devastation, a strange ray of light in an otherwise baffling situation.

The first half of the memoir recounts Cohen's difficulties and the long search through the medical community for answers, the many misdiagnoses and finally the completely astounding correct diagnosis. The second half of this slight book focuses on the way she continues to be impacted, how she feels about all of it, and how she lives her life with the knowledge of her disability. She recognizes the lifelong way in which her disability has driven her sometimes difficult relationship with her parents and sisters, knowing that an inordinate amount of attention has had to be paid to her over the years and will continue to be necessary to help her in those problem areas she'll likely never master. She discusses the series of jobs she has had and the reasons she has struggled to hold onto those jobs. And a large portion of this latter half of the book looks at the on and off romantic relationship Cohen had and how the reality of her situation played out in it as well. The memoir is very introspective but it meanders a bit. Cohen doesn't slip into self-pity about her condition although there is some wistfulness for the easy life she'll never lead. Her story is interesting for its uniqueness but perhaps because it is so unusual as to have no real documentation, it feels a bit repetitive by the end. The amazing thing turns out not to be the hole in Cohen's brain but that she has accomplished all that she has, not least of which is writing this generally readable book.

Thanks to the publisher and LibraryThing Early Readers for sending me a copy of this book for review.

1 comment:

  1. I enjoy memoirs, and this one sounds right up my alley. Great review!


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