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Torn Apart - James Patterson & Hal Friedman

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1 Review

Paperback: 304 pages / Publisher: Arrow / Published: 10 Sep 2009

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      13.02.2013 12:28
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      A tale of a broken life slowly pieced back together

      I hadn't heard of Torn Apart before I came across it in the library. It sounded intriguing, in part because of the subject matter and in part because its primary author was James Patterson. Despite not really knowing quite what to expect, this was a book I finished within two days of starting it, literally feeling drawn to keep turning the pages. Whilst it was heart-wrenching at times, it was also a tale of courage, family and perseverance that served to open my eyes a little and to inspire at the same time.

      On the cover it tells us that this is 'from the No.1 International Bestselling author', along with the tagline 'The true story of a childhood lost' to give us a feel for what to expect. This falls within the biography genre as it is based on a true story, on the life of a boy named Cory Friedman. It was inspired and started with Cory's father, Hal Friedman, along with the help of James Patterson, who took over the writing of the novel after Hal approached him as a friend with the story. Patterson is a very popular and well-known author, and this is the first instance of him taking on such a biography, so I was surprised to see his name on the cover and read about how he became involved in its creation.

      Torn Apart introduces us to Cory on a March morning of 1989, where one pivotal moment changed his life forever. After a strange head-shaking event, this little boy seemed to develop some kind of movement disorder that at first seemed unusual rather than life-threatening or long-lasting. Perhaps it was just an odd-one off, or a phase he was going through. But unfortunately not. Since that point, Cory developed a combination of neurological conditions, none of which were adequately defined or diagnosed for a long time. His mum, dad and sister all lived within the same household and noticed this change in him, and over time, were there through the development of his Tourette's syndrome, obsessive compulsive disorder, anxiety disorder and other neurological conditions. This book is like a documentary of a 15 year struggle for the Friedman family, what they went through and what Cory suffered.

      This book is written as though from Cory's view, even though he was not the author himself. He gave the go-ahead for the book to be published if telling his story may help others like him, which is a very noble way of looking at it considering how personal and revealing the book is into his life. Throughout Torn Apart we are given insights in to various life events that Cory experienced, the various doctors, treatment centres, medications and interventions that were sought on his behalf. We read of the turmoil he went through both on the inside and outside, seeing the effects of such life-destroying conditions, the bullying and teasing at school, how the neurological problems manifested in a way that permeated every aspect of his day to day life. From impulsive verbal assults, tics and bizarre random movements, to dangerous actions, drinking as a way of self-medicating and the disastrous side-effects of the cabinet of drugs his was put on. We watch as Cory grows from the little boy, misunderstood and outcast by his conditions, to the school boy trying to fit in but being unable to be 'normal' like his peers, and finally to the stronger young man that comes out of it at the end.

      The book is broken down in to small chapters, some of which are only a couple of pages, which makes reading this incredibly easy. It's further broken down in to parts, like in a play, to highlight the various stages throughout the years. It's told from Cory's perspective in a way that is authentic and heart-felt, showing just how close his father was to his son through those years and how well Patterson was able to pick up on the emotion and fact to blend them in to a readable style. It felt down-to-earth, without medical and technical lingo to complicate, and elements, such as the meaning of certain conditions, were explained in order to appreciate what was going on. To go through what Cory did is quite unimaginable, and yet with all of the details and selected events to illustrate his life, Hal and Patterson were able to get me to picture this boy and his family, and further more to empathise rather than simply sympathise. It read as being genuine, honest and open, leaving Cory little privacy to his life as we are able to explore what he went through so that we could get even a small amount of understanding as to what it would have been like for him.

      A lot of the time whilst reading this I felt quite shocked, appalled and quite devastated for the Friedman family. The amount of doctors they saw and the sheer amount of drugs and various combinations of them was astonishing. No treatment seemed to come without a price, and the side-effects brought Cory to the point of desperation on several occasions. I'm not sure I would have been strong enough to keep going, to hold my breath for each new drug or treatment idea that could help me only to be disappointed again. But he did, and his family were there to support him at each step along the way, no matter what it took.

      By no means could I ever truly imagine what it was like to be Cory, or a member of his family trying to support him but only being able to look on as he suffered. However, there were a few elements that resonated with me as I had mild OCD as a child. Some of the things he did I could better empathise with and I multiplied this by a million to get a feel for what he must have been through.

      There was a lot of sadness emanating from this book, a lot of desperate attempts to find a solution, times of hopelessness and examples of things consistently getting worse. However, by the end of the book I was left feeling amazed, both by Cory and his family. There were times, and the overall feeling by the end, of pride, perseverance, faith, love and courage. This was the uplifting and motivational aspect to the book, contrasting the hell that Cory endured to the sheer determination and breakthrough that was achieved.

      As I've said, I found this very easy to read both thanks to the shorter chapters and the writing style. Being written as if from Cory's perspective increased the ability to empathise and really get a view of what his life was like, and it gripped me to want to keep reading, to know how things would progress for him. Whilst some names were changed, the foundational elements and facts were there, and I like how these were put together as almost snippets, mini-stories contained in each few chapters to give a better view of what happened over those years.

      On the back is further praise, including 'A work of naked truth, as disturbing as it is important... The true story of Hal Friedman's son, Cory, is a gift of honesty, huge courage, and hope' - Patricia Cornwell, 'Highly readable and emotionally affecting' - Mirror, and '[Torn Apart] is both harrowing and heartbreaking, but is also a story of astonishing courage. This book stands as a testament to the amazing power of one family's unconditional love for each other' - Tess Gerritsen. I would agree with all of the aforementioned praise, because as much as it was shocking and heartbreaking, it was also an authentic tale of courage and hope.

      All in all, this is definitely a book I would recommend. It's well-written and gripping to read from start to finish, broadening the reader's horizons to the types of neurological conditions Cory suffered and what his life was like to deal with them. Be prepared for sadness and frustration, but also to be amazed by the courage, determination and hope of both Cory and his family.

      269 pages over 72 chapters plus father's epilogue, with an additional bit at the back for a small interview with the author and an appendix of a few hand-written records and a list of medications prescribed to Cory.

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