Book Review: How to Walk Away by Katherine Center

It felt like a big moment. It felt draped in metaphorical significance about bravery, and trust, and adventurousness—like it would reveal something essential about who i was and how I’d live the rest of my whole life. Saying no to flying right now suddenly felt like saying no to every possibility forever. Did I want to be a person who let minuscule statistical risks undermine any sense of bravery? Was this a challenge I couldn’t rise to? Was I going to let fear make me small?

The irony of Margaret’s situation is something to behold: with a debilitating fear of flying she is persuaded by her boyfriend, Chip to accompany on his first solo flight prior to becoming a certified pilot, knowing deep down that he has something special planning. While in route, Margaret cannot help but wonder how she can comprehend anything other than the sheer fact that she in currently belted into the copilot seat of this tiny plane when Chip reveals the very thing she was anticipating—an engagement ring. However, just minutes after the life she has always imagined has become a more tangible reality, the weather takes a turn for the worst and her very fears are realized.

There was no arguing with what was happening, and there was certainly nothing either of us could do about it. We were the very definition of helpless, and as I realized that, it also hit me that everything I’d been looking forward to was over before it even began. Chip and me—and the lakeside wedding we’d never have, and the rescue beagle we’d never adopt, and the valedictorian babies we’d never make. They say your life flashes before your eyes, but it wasn’t my life as I’d lived it that I saw. It was the life I’d been waiting for. The one I’d never get a chance to live.

As these things go, Margaret is left with severe burns to her neck and face and a devastating spinal cord injury which changes her life forever. But this isn’t a story of suffering and loss, though these themes do appear, but rather it is a story of resilience and hope. Margaret, though battling all the normal emotions one experiences upon learning of the loss of the ability to walk, is a sarcastic, hilarious character that adds authenticity and humanity to a story that could very well read depressing. Her internal monologues are often laugh-out-loud funny and made even more hilarious by Center’s ability to craft unbelievable yet wholly relatable situations between Margaret and her family, Chip and the therapists who work to improve her health.

It’s strange that I could have laughed so hard under those circumstances, during that very dark moment in my life. But I’ve decided that sorrow can make things funnier. Endure enough hardship, and you start really needing a good laugh.

As if it wasn’t enough to deal with a catastrophic physical injury, Margaret must also deal with her passive aggressive mother, drunk with guilt and spirits fiancee, Chip, and the reappearance of her estranged sister, Kit. The remainder of the story follows Margaret through her time at the hospital, where her recovery is sometimes overshadowed by the ensuing family drama and her own personal conflict with Chip, whose guilt and glaring character flaws take center-stage in his life, forcing Margaret to evaluate their future together. Fortunately for her, the physical therapist assigned to her recovery is a handsome, Scottish man named Ian whose business-like demeanor is put to the test by Margaret’s jocular and biting humor. Soon the two become more than just therapist and patient, but that relationship is fraught with its own barriers and uncertainties.

Of course he wasn’t in love with me. Why would he be? What had I been thinking? He could do and be and choose anything he wanted. He had the whole world ahead of him. All I had was a tiny little half-life. What was exciting or attractive or lovable about that?

Center infuses her story with a fantastic mixture of conflict, family drama, personal struggle and success which is all topped off by a generous and well placed measure of romance. How to Walk Away is a heartfelt and hysterical chronicle of one woman’s life turned completely upside-down and the amazing ability she has for reorienting and turning it right-side up—even if the right side looks nothing like the original life she imagined.

I know better than to look backward. I know how to try, and how to fail, and how to try again. I know how to live from the inside out. I know to savor every snuggle, every morning swim, every tickle, every meal, every warm bath, ever moment when somebody makes you laugh. More than anything, I know that you just have to choose to make the best of things. You get one life, and it only goes forward. And there really are all kinds of happy endings.

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A review copy of this title was provided by St. Martin’s Press and BookSparks

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