Book Review: Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato

Today’s post is written by Happiest Mom contributor and resident book reviewer Devon Barta of The Paperhouse. Enjoy!

When my husband and I went shopping for our first piece of living room furniture, we knew exactly what we wanted. Even though I was open to a wide variety of colors and styles, the height of the couch we were hunting for was extremely specific: We were only going to purchase something that would allow my feet to touch the ground. Gone were the days when my legs were going to dangle like a schoolgirl’s off the lip of the sofa cushion.

I am short. Inconveniently short. Too-short-to-play-basketball-seriously short. Stand-me-next-to-someone-tall-at-a-party-and-take-a-picture-because-OMG-that’s-hilarious short.

I am 4’11”, and it is for that reason alone that I was compelled to pick up Dwarf by Tiffanie DiDonato. It is important to mention that, although DiDonato and I could probably talk for hours about the injustice of most department stores’ limited inseam selection, I am acutely aware that my height does not make me special. Nor does it make me fully appreciate anything the author has had to fight through to achieve. I am exceedingly ordinary in every other way.

But I do believe that my short stature does make me aware – not of a specific handicap per se – but of a longing, which is what makes DiDonato’s book such a special memoir. As is always the case with a well-written personal journey, memoirs have the potential to affect their readers in a very personal way, regardless of the story being told and the subject matter being discussed.

And DiDonato spoke to me as both an interested reader and a parent.

Dwarf is the story of Tiffanie DiDonato, a woman born with diastrophic dysplasia, a rare form of dwarfism that severely limited her mobility. It did not, however, limit her determination, and after a series of elective, painful bone-lengthening procedures throughout her childhood and teen years, DiDonato gained an unprecedented 14 inches of height, eventually standing her at 4’10”.

I expected this book to tell me about how a woman fought for her physical freedom and her future – and it did. But it also did more. By chronicling her own struggles, DiDonato also told the story of a determined mother, her own mother, who must have had to push aside her own doubts and trepidations to trust in her daughter’s convictions.

Regardless of how our children are born – whether they are completely healthy, whether they will struggle with a disability, whether they will have to undergo painful surgeries or whether they will need extra help in school – it is our duty as parents to show our children that we are all born with some obstacle or another to overcome and that they are all manageable.

Through my own versions of trial and error, I have learned that constant hand-holding and pandering to every fear does not an independent child make. Common sense tells us that what we practice with our children in their early years sets the mold for their adult selves. And although their situation is an extreme example, Tiffanie’s mother shows how tough love coupled with affectionate encouragement helped to shape her daughter into a fierce, independent adult.

Isn’t that what we all want for our children? Isn’t that the riddle all parenting books are written to solve?

I used to shy away from memoirs as a whole – until I became a mother. Now I’ve discovered in them an inspiration I never realized was there, especially when I’m able to apply the stories being told to my role as a parent, which is precisely the case with DiDonato’s Dwarf.  Many times while reading this book – especially while reading through her accounts of the surgeries – I found myself stretching my legs, even itching at them. But mostly I felt a stirring of my soul – as both a person and a parent.

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