Joan Ryan – The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance

101. The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance by Joan Ryan (2009)
Length: 260 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction
Started: 16 October 2014
Finished: 18 October 2014
Where did it come from? From a Library Book Sale
How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 20 July 2012
Why do I have it?
I like non-fiction and Joan Ryan is a new author for me.

When she is first called to the hospital, acclaimed sports columnist and author Joan Ryan is convinced that her son’s skateboarding accident would only require several stitches for him and a wasted afternoon for her. Sixteen-year-old Ryan Tompkins had fallen off his skateboard, and it wasn’t immediately obvious just how serious his injuries actually were. Despite having various cuts and scratches and complaining that his head hurt, Ryan seemed fine; indeed, he seemed slightly annoyed to be going to hospital by ambulance. In this moving and extremely powerful memoir, Joan Ryan retraces the tumultuous and complicated relationship that delivers mother and son to this moment when, through his brush with death and his painful rehabilitation, they are challenged to redefine who they are and what they mean to each other.

For most of his sixteen years, Ryan hadn’t been easy to parent. He lurched from one setback to another, struggling to overcome learning disabilities and ADHD. Joan’s grim determination to solve the puzzle of her son’s odd and often defiant behavior left her confounded and exasperated. She became so controlling and judgmental, so focused on trying to fix what was wrong with him, that she became more of Ryan’s relentless reformer than his loving mother.

By the time Ryan arrived at the hospital, it became apparent that he was suffering from a traumatic brain injury, and the doctors weren’t sure if he would even survive. The expectation of a wasted afternoon soon became the furthest worry from Joan Ryan’s mind. Instead she spends months rather than hours with her son in the hospital and in rehab, watching him fight to survive his injury and to reclaim a small measure of his life.

When her son wakes from his coma, Joan gets a second chance at motherhood. She rejoices at his first word, his first step, his first spoonful of food, his first attempt to write. She gets the chance to be Ryan’s mother all over again and for the first time recognizes what an amazing, heroic young man he is. The Water Giver is the universal story of a mother coming to terms with her own limitations and learning that the best way to help her child is simply to love him. 

I really enjoyed reading this book. I found it to be poignant, well-written, moving and lovingly honest; a comprehensive account of a family dealing with a child’s traumatic brain injury. The story didn’t dwell too much on Ryan’s challenges or portray him as someone who needed to be pitied because of his injury.

It was a very interesting book for me to read, and I could certainly understand how a traumatic brain injury not only affects – and continues to affect – the person who is injured, but also their entire family. I give The Water Giver: The Story of a Mother, a Son, and Their Second Chance by Joan Ryan an A+! 

A+! – (96-100%)

Till we Meet Again, Glow Brightly as Moonlight


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