Karen Killilea and her family
October 1, 2008 1:00 PM   Subscribe

This post piqued my interest, as I'd always presumed I was "the only one" who'd read these books. Many, many years ago I got a First Communion gift from my ultra-Catholic grandmother of the paperback editions of both Karen and With Love from Karen.

To be honest, the discounted price stamped inside of the front covers and the ragged condition of the books told me how much thought Grandma had put into her gift, so it was many years before I actually read them. But once I finally read the story of the Killilea family I learned about a condition called cerebral palsy , which I'd heard of but was unfamiliar with. Reading those books introduced me to the concept of occupational therapy, which I'd never really thought of before (to be honest, I've always taken such tasks as buttoning a buton for granted). In any case, Marie's books were so personal and intriguing to me that in the back of my mind I'd always wondered "Whatever happened to...?"
posted by Oriole Adams (7 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Horror - "My wife came over just as I got back and helped me hold her down. We could hear the girls screaming now…"
posted by tellurian at 3:27 PM on October 1, 2008

I read Karenseveral times as a kid. Old paperbacks seemed to just wander into our house. It was the first time I'd heard of cerebral palsy, too.

I didn't read the other book and so this is the first I heard of their later lives, or the fire. Poor Gloria.
posted by pernoctalian at 7:01 PM on October 1, 2008

I have CP, but I had heard of these books only in passing... what a pathbreaking woman Marie was. Feel free to ask me anything if you'd like more depth than Wikipedia.
posted by StrikeTheViol at 7:50 PM on October 1, 2008

I got my copy of "Karen" (now long since given away) from Scholastic Book Club. I don't even recall what book they ran out of, but they gave me Karen and my choice of any book out of the next catalog. Since Amazon doesn't seem to know about any printings even close to the years I am thinking of, I wonder if they weren't old stock Scholastic was trying to ditch.

The part I remember most is the other kids teaching Karen to go up and down the stairs by herself as she was getting too big to carry. Touching stuff.

Did you know that some CP symptoms can be treated with Botox?
posted by ilsa at 8:24 PM on October 1, 2008

Despite the horror of the fire for the family, it sounds like Karen ended up doing OK. Those books were the first time I'd heard of CP (or Newfoundlands, for that matter). Having grown up in a very Irish Catholic family, it was fascinating seeing such a culturally similar family adapting to such a challenge (and to seeing Karen overcome so many challenges.)
posted by ubersturm at 10:38 PM on October 1, 2008

I remember we all read that book in grade 5. In addition to learning about CP, I think I also learned about enemas in that book (didn't she play with enema bags, without ever telling us what they were?).
posted by stevil at 10:13 PM on October 2, 2008

Thank you Oriole! I re-read these books every couple years and have been wanting to do a 'where are they now' weblog post. There is an amazing strength to how Karen's parents refused to coddle their daughter, encouraged her to be the best she could be, and raised a family with a wonderful sense of humor. The books are filled with funny stories.

stevil: regarding the enema bags, I remember that Karen was on a train and met a nice man who talked with her about her CP and then asked her if there was a gift she would like. She asked him for an enema bag, for her doll I think. And he sent her one.
posted by girlhacker at 11:09 PM on October 2, 2008

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