By: Michael J. Mason
Publisher: Evolved Publishing
Publication Date: September 16, 2022
Reviewed by: Katie Specht
Review Date: February 17, 2023
From debut author Michael J. Mason comes the first memoir in the trilogy of his life entitled On the Outside Chance. Mason’s poignant memoir chronicles his early life as he struggles growing up with cerebral palsy. This debilitating condition leads him to be tortured and ridiculed at school on a daily basis, and his parents, though well-meaning, are ill-equipped to raise a child with a disability, leaving Michael to largely take care of himself.
After an accident at birth leaves Peter (the name Michael uses for himself in this book) disabled, simple everyday tasks such as walking require intense concentration and effort. At age 13, Peter depends on his mother and father physically for more than the average boy his age. His father needs to help him with his tie for his school uniform each day, and Peter always feels guilty that he cannot help his mother when she brings in groceries, because he is physically unable to carry the heavy bags when he is loaded down with his school bookbag. His mother tries her best to be there for him, not only for physical tasks, but also with kind words and warm hugs, but she does not fully grasp the severity of Peter’s limitations. Peter’s father, however, is of the mindset that there is nothing wrong with Peter, that he should just “buck up” and he’ll be able to do anything that other teenagers can do.
Peter’s daily school life is nothing short of agonizing. It begins with him struggling to climb up the stairs to the bus as the bus driver shouts at him to “Step it up!” Once aboard, Peter always tries to find a seat as quickly as possible to avoid ridicule, but more often than not, the name-calling ensues before that happens. A crowd of boys from the back of the bus fling names such as “Spaz” and “Spazo” at Peter as he finds his seat. As usual, no one, not even the bus driver, comes to his aid. Once the bus arrives at school, Peter knows enough to wait until the other students have emptied the bus until he gathers his items and shuffles down the steps and into the school. The agony continues with his classes as he often requires special accommodations for certain subjects, such as writing and Algebra. Peter does his best to speak with his teachers at the beginning of each semester to arrange these accommodations, but sometimes the teachers are unwilling and view it as an inconvenience to them. The school administrators have a similar attitude as Peter’s parents about his disability. Though they mean well, they, too, are ill-equipped to educate a child with a disability and it glaringly shows as Peter progresses through school.
Peter’s mother soon begins suffering from the early stages of Parkinson’s disease, leaving Peter to depend much more on his father. As Peter approaches his high school graduation, he begins pondering his future and where he will attend college. He has many discussions with his father, who, to his surprise, agrees to help him. They even go visit a few colleges together. Throughout Peter’s high school career, he also begins undergoing psychotherapy with a psychologist, who he later credits with helping him work through many existential crises. With her help, Peter begins to feel as though there is hope for his future and looks forward to what may come of him as a post-graduate.
A very interesting concept about this book is how the author chose to name the main character “Peter” rather than “Michael,” which is the author’s real name. The author explains that he chose to do this because he viewed Peter as the boy he once was, full of self-doubt, self-contempt, and feelings of inferiority. The author even goes so far as to say that Peter “died” at one point and Michael took over. I assume that will be a story for a future book, and I look forward to reading it.
This book was touching on so many levels. Reading what this young boy suffered through daily broke my heart as I read, and I remember waiting and hoping that his life would improve. It was also very sad to learn what circumstances were like for anyone with a disability back in the 1960s when the author grew up. There simply did not exist programs to help these people, and it is extremely unfortunate. It may not have been a conscious lack of effort, but the fact is that they were failed by the system, and there is simply no excuse for that. However, rather than leave you sad, On the Outside Chance will inspire readers because it really is a story about the human spirit, and a true testament to one boy's extraordinary level of resiliency.
Quill says: On the Outside Chance is the inspirational story of one boy’s struggle growing up with cerebral palsy, and the devastating emotional toll it took on him. With the help of some special mentors in his life, he attains hope and no longer allows himself to be defined by his disability.
For more information on On the Outside Chance (The Peter Mason Chronicles), please visit the publisher's website at: evolvedpub.com/books/on-the-outside-chance/