top of page

Breath & Shadow

Winter 2020 - Vol. 17, Issue 1

"Such a Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment and Disability Pride- A Book Review"

written by

Erin M. Kelly

There are some stories that call attention to larger issues than what is written about on the surface. There are some that reflect the struggles and hardships of an entire demographic, even though the journey may be singular. In both scenarios, however, it is essential for the writer to take full ownership of their circumstances, whether they’re chosen for them or not. By the same token, the writer must be prepared to be honest – in the telling of a story and what they choose to share with their audience.


Nadina LaSpina beautifully accomplishes all of these things in her new memoir, Such A Pretty Girl: A Story of Struggle, Empowerment and Disability Pride. She takes readers with her on her brave, relentless journey to becoming an activist for disability rights – starting from her less than humble beginnings as a baby in her native country of Sicily upon contracting polio, to being misunderstood growing up as a teenager with a disability in the U.S.


It is in these devastating moments during LaSpina’s childhood that readers have the opportunity to gain a deeply genuine perspective from the outside looking in. These early childhood moments also shed a light on the author’s raw pain from constantly being rejected and neglected by society as a disabled woman. It also paints an achingly vivid picture of the automatic vulnerability that she faces, as well as why she takes such bold steps to make her voice heard.


Her willingness to be honest and raw allows her to be a voice for others. This memoir raises that voice to a level that cannot, and should not, be ignored. There’s an awareness which comes with that – a beacon of light and hope that conveys a message of strength. LaSpina’s situation or personal outlook regarding her circumstances may not be similar to those of people reading this book – and they don’t have to be parallel in any way. 


The most fascinating aspect about the way LaSpina tells her story, is the fact that she takes a brutally honest approach. She puts her heart on full display, leaving no stone unturned. She achieves this in a way that does not feel forced. It does, however, let her audience know that her circumstances have led her to be bold, persistent, and honest. It might not have been her choice, but she writes in a manner which lets people know this is the way she’s had to be in order to become the activist she is today. 


It’s because of that unapologetic approach that readers get to decide whether or not to continue on this journey with the author – no matter if they’re a few pages in, or halfway through. It also shows the inherent threads between disability, struggle, pride, and self-initiative. That thread also leads to breaking down walls and barriers – which the author does beautifully in this memoir.


These attributes and characteristics carry LaSpina’s story. They’re the backbone of her personal truth – one which requires unrelenting courage and boldness. LaSpina utilizes that truth, not as a platform for pity, but rather, as justification for the hardship she has endured. It’s a testament to her resolve when her back was against the wall, and what she chose to do when her world crumbled down around her.


LaSpina may not have intended to break down any barriers by telling her story. She might not have even imagined it would carry such powerful messages, but Such a Pretty Girl achieves both of these things and so much more. It’s a remarkable achievement in the art of storytelling, as well as the resiliency of the human soul.

Erin M. Kelly is the author of How To Wait, her debut collection of poetry. Her autobiography is forthcoming in 2020. She enjoys writing in all genres. She was born with Cerebral Palsy and wants to be recognized for her work rather than her disability. Her work has been published by The Huffington Post, Upworthy, The Mighty, The Good Men Project, Wordgathering Poetry Journal, and others. She writes a monthly column entitled, “The View from Here,” for the local newspaper in Altoona, Pennsylvania, addressing the challenges she faces daily. Erin enjoys freelance editing and served as Editor for the memoir, To Cope and To Prevail, by Dr. Ilse-Rose Warg. 

bottom of page