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If I Get To Five: What Children Can Teach Us About Courage and Character    by Fred Epstein & Joshua Horwitz order for
If I Get To Five
by Fred Epstein
Order:  USA  Can
Henry Holt, 2003 (2003)
Hardcover, Audio, CD

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* * *   Reviewed by Sally Selvadurai

If I Get To Five is a powerful book indeed, giving the reader an insight into the extraordinary ability of children to cope with what many adults would view as hopeless adversity. It is also about the coping abilities of families when they come face-to-face with situations they can do nothing to change.

This book is an inspiring testament to the resilience of the human spirit, and comes to us from someone who has himself passed through the same emotional maze, and come out intact and improved, with greater empathy for his patients than ever before. Dr. Epstein has spent his adult life as a paediatric neurosurgeon, specializing in brain and spinal cord tumours, finding innovative ways to assist his young patients in their battles against the invasive disease and other traumatic head and spinal injuries. As a surgeon, his techniques evolved; as a healer he realized that the mechanics of surgery was not enough - his patients needed an integrated approach to healing, that included nurses, therapists, musicologists and entertainers all working in concert to address the spiritual needs of not only the patient but also the parents.

Although this is a book fundamentally about children's abilities to survive and grow as individuals in the face of insurmountable odds, it speaks to the adult too. The premise is that if we treat each other humanely we will survive better emotionally, something that we all gradually realize as we mature. As Epstein notes: 'Once you stop fearing failure, you're free ... Everything becomes possible when there's nothing you're afraid to try.' We are treated to many personal stories of the true strength of the human spirit as shown by the young survivors of brain and spinal tumours, as well as some wonderful insights into the nature and dichotomy of parenthood, even of our 'healthy' offspring: 'We love our children more than life itself, but it's still a struggle to accept them for the flawed and yet perfect individuals they are.'

Dr. Epstein, with the help of Joshua Horwitz, has produced an inspiring book, one that should be depressing given the nature of the illnesses described and their lasting after effects, but which instead is luminous, offering us hope in today's sorry world that the human spirit will prevail.

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