A Peek in the Pages – Bunting Library blog

A Peek in the Pages: Books From the Bunting Library
by Nate Donhowe, NUMC Communications Intern

Welcome, one and all! This will be the first in a series of posts that will show you just what sorts of books are available at the UMC’s Bunting Library, doing so through professional and reader reviews from a variety of sources. First in our list is…

Joni & Ken: An Untold Love Story
By Joni Eareckson and Ken Tada

Joni & Ken chronicles the authors’ courtship and marriage, all the while dealing with Eareckson’s quadriplegia (a disease in which one’s limbs are rendered either partially or fully unusable) as well as her eventual cancer diagnosis. Their struggles test their faith not only in each other, but in the Lord. Below is a series of reviews for this book.

Review #1:   N.B. Kennedy (source Amazon.com), rated 4 stars.

It took a lot of courage to write a book like this chronicling the inner workings of a marriage. I know I wouldn’t want to put my relationships out there for everyone to critique!

This is the story of Joni Eareckson and Ken Tada’s courtship and marriage. To those unfamiliar with the name, she is a Christian with celebrity status and a worldwide ministry. She is also a quadriplegic who in her 30s married Ken Tada, whom she met at church.

Ken might have been a little awed by Joni’s celebrity status, but he seemed genuinely in love and willing to take on the challenge of caregiving. But as the years go by, both Joni and Ken become weary from the relentless grind of daily care, and for Joni, pain and helplessness. Joni has full-time nurses and aides, and for many years Ken retreats emotionally and physically from his wife and allows her entourage to take over much of the time. Who can blame him? Joni is painfully aware of how her needs have overwhelmed her husband and she tries to lessen the burden by disappearing on weekends shopping, spending time with friends — anything to give Ken some space. Their marriage becomes arid.

Joni’s diagnosis of cancer, and Ken’s immersion in the book Wild at Heart, changes all that, in ways the couple could never have imagined. In fact, Joni considers her diagnosis a gift to her marriage! The book takes you on the couple’s journey of spiritual discovery and marital healing.

I enjoyed much of the book, but was a little hampered by the meandering text. For example, the book starts with a scene at a restaurant, from the viewpoint of the elderly Italian owner, who is musing about the restaurants he has owned — who is he?!? We don’t learn for three pages what his connection to Joni is, and when it is revealed, it is tenuous at best. The story isn’t told chronologically, so I got lost at times, and the momentum of the story is lost in a long early chapter on a visit the engaged couple makes to Eastern Europe for Joni’s ministry.

More importantly, I missed hearing firsthand from Ken. Most of the story is told from Joni’s viewpoint. I wanted to hear his thoughts and feelings unfiltered. Joni says she knows the burden of caregiving was heavy on him; I would have liked to hear directly from Ken about that. His voice is most apparent toward the end as he mulls over his role as a “warrior” husband, but I would have enjoyed hearing more from him about the twenty-eight long years of struggle before his epiphany.

Review #2:   Nola (source Goodreads.com), rated 5 stars.

I’ve read all of Joni Eareckson’s autobiographical books (Joni, A Step Further, Choices Changes, The God I Love) and was really looking forward to reading this recent work about her 30-year marriage to Ken Tada. I knew that it would cover the trademark transparency that marks all of her books, but I was wondering how much of Ken’s heart we would hear. Well, I needn’t have asked the question because they are both so honest and courageous in sharing their ups and downs. Joni’s quadriplegia certainly brought challenges to the marriage, but they also faced Ken’s depression and Joni’s battle with chronic pain and breast cancer. Even one of those circumstances would be enough to crush some marriages, yet they have come through it all with a greater love for each other and dependence on God. They are the first to insist that they’re nothing special and that it is all due to God’s grace, but there’s no denying that they are a remarkable couple. Hearing their story certainly puts other people’s little marital glitches into perspective.

While some parts of the book are poignant, there is also a great deal of warmth and humour. Indeed, Joni’s breast cancer brought them closer together than ever before and actually became a source of joy. It was also wonderful to hear more of Ken’s story and how God shaped him into the warrior he was designed to be.

My only slight reservation with the book is that it’s told in third person. Larry Libby writes really well and does a good job of conveying Joni and Ken’s thoughts, but I was expecting a first-person narrative like Joni’s other books. I know that would have been more complicated with two people having to share their personal thoughts, but I think it could have been done. Once I got over that, I really enjoyed the book.

This is a marriage that has been refined in the fire and come out as precious silver. A truly inspirational read.

Review #3:   PatWKirk (source Barnes & Noble.com), rated 5 stars

An athletic seventeen-year-old girl broke her neck while diving, changing her life forever. Over thirty years later, she still lives in a wheelchair, paralyzed from the neck down. She has also traveled throughout the US and the world advocating for the disabled. Few of us haven’t heard of Joni Earekson Tada, singer, writer, and artist who does oil paints by holding the brush in her teeth.

Ken Tada is the amazing man she found, married, and has loved for thirty years. When he married her, he knew there would be challenges. But he discovered the extent of those challenges on their wedding night. They had periods of near-estrangement as he struggled through the inescapable dailiness of it all.

Ken became depressed. Then Joni’s physical disabilities increased. She went from no feeling in her body, to terrible pain, breast cancer, and pneumonia.

The Lord took them through the turbulence to a place of deeper-than-ever love for each other and Him. There is a cute set of pictures on the back flap of the two of them laughing together.

The authors of Joni&Ken tell the story in personal narrative, leading the reader into the action as though walking along with them. Neither Joni nor Ken are perfect, though talented and spiritually sensitive. What might be too depressing to read, becomes a journey with two nice people that we like.

That ends this installment of “A Peek in the Pages,” but come back next week for a look at another of the great books available at the Bunting Library!