Friday, January 9, 2009

I Choose to be Happy by Missy Jenkins

I Choose to be Happy: A School Shooting Survivor's Triumph Over Tragedy is Missy Jenkins' inspirational and courageous story about her ordeal during and after the Paducah, Kentucky school shooting in 1997. Michael Carneal, a freshman, walks into the school one morning with several guns and substantial rounds of ammunition. He open fires just as a prayer group was disbanding from their morning prayer. By the end of the day, three students would be dead and five wounded; Missy, 15, among them. As Missy points out, the Heath High School shooting took place before Columbine; at a time when school shootings were virtually unheard of.

In this book, she takes the reader inside on a guided tour of the school and it's social dynamics. The story mostly follows a linear track with just a little backtracking to give us parts of the story just weeks before the shootings. Her story continues to the present day on how she's living as a paraplegic. She also speculates on Michael's reasons for his actions. Her story is supplemented with a few photos to orientate the reader.

I really enjoyed reading this book. While the subject matter is far from light, Missy's courage and strength are inspiring. Just hours after the attack, Missy is ready to forgive Michael for his actions. Spirituality and religion played a big part in Missy's life and helped her tremendously with her recovery. My one small complaint is that it came across a little preachy at times, but just a little.

Missy also writes about how she's coping with being a paraplegic and shares some of the details (such as going to the bathroom) of her life now. These sections will probably not be appreciated by the squeamish. While the details might fall under the category of "too much information", I bet that lots of people (including me) wondered about this, but would never dare ask. Missy's candour is refreshing and educational.

The other thing I really liked about this story is that it was told from a victim's point of view [she did have some help from William Croyle, a journalist.] Too many times stories like these are written by lawyers or another outsiders.

Missy is now married with a son and is a counsellor at a day treatment centre. She gives talks to schools about her ordeal and urges students to take action to prevent this from happening in other schools.


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