Little People: Learning to See the World Through My Daughter’s Eye’s
By: Dan Kennedy
Reviewed By: Written Voices
Becky Kennedy was more than her parents had bargained for. Born a dwarf, her early medical problems nearly overwhelmed the family's resources. But as surely as she recovered and grew into a healthy little girl, Becky became more than Dan and Barbara Kennedy could have hoped for: not a merely a miniature likeness of themselves, but a little person with such a unique perspective that she opened their eyes to a whole other world.
In Little People, Dan Kennedy confronts the deepest of parental fears: What if my child is different? His search for an answer provides a penetrating look at how our culture of diversity clashes with the reality of disability and the belief that we have a right to the so-called perfect child.
A week after her birth in 1992, Dan Kennedy's firstborn daughter was diagnosed with achondroplasia, the most common type of dwarfism. Reassured by doctors that Becky would have normal intelligence and a normal life span, Dan and his wife, Barbara, quickly adjusted to the reality of her condition. What wasn't so easy was grasping people's attitudes toward those with physical differences.
In Little People, award-winning journalist Dan Kennedy explores dwarfism from ancient times, when dwarfs held an honored position in some cultures, to more modern days when they were featured in freak shows and treated as human guinea pigs by Nazi scientists. While sharing his own poignant experiences, Kennedy works in wonderful passages about dwarf subculture, including the fever pitch of the dating scene during the annual Little People of America convention, and the caste system that exists among those with different varieties of the condition. Kennedy profiles individuals whose small stature has helped them to succeed, and others who have allowed themselves to be exploited and abused.
But the most controversial ground covered in the book is the author's hard look at medical screening procedures, or designer genetics, that already make it possible for parents to eliminate differences ranging from dwarfism to Down syndrome and could soon target genetic traits such as manic depression and homosexuality. While it is true that there has never been a better time for those who are outside the mainstream, whether one is wheelchair-bound, mentally challenged, or gay, it is also clear that most parents do not wish these differences for their own children. Kennedy argues that there is a cultural value to preserving differences, and that eliminating them may harm society in unpredictable ways.
Dan Kennedy is senior writer at the Boston Phoenix; his articles have also appeared in publications such as The New Republic, Salon, and Slate. He is the editor of the Little People of America Web site. LPA Online (www.lpaonline.org). He lives in Danvers, Massachusetts, with his family and can be reached through his personal Web site at www.dankennedy.net.
For more information, please visit Written Voices at: www.writtenvoices.com.