What would you do if you were seventeen years old and broke your neck? It's tough enough to stand on the verge of adulthood without the extra burden of not being able to stand at all. Steve Fiffer had his whole life ahead of him in December 1967 when he fractured his fifth cervical vertebra in a wrestling accident at school, shattering his dreams. The diagnosis was quadriplegia, and his parents were told that he would never walk again. Steve, however, was not content to accept such a fate. He had always been taught that he was a leader, not a follower, and he was not going to take this news lying down. Within five months he was out of the hospital, within seven he was on crutches, and within nine he was beginning his freshman year at Yale University. And most remarkable of all, he never lost his wisecracking sense of humor or his hunger for all that life has to offer. Three Quarters, Two Dimes, and a Nickel is Steve Fiffer's story of his coming of age, and of how he created a normal life for himself despite his injury. Steve refused to be consumed or defined by his physical condition; he may not be a dollar bill, he explains, but he's still "three quarters, two dimes, and a nickel." His battle to come back from his injury casts into sharp relief the drama of becoming an adult and wrestling with issues of identity, relationships, and ambition. We join him around the dinner table as he rebuilds his once-distant relationship with his father and gains a new appreciation of their bond; we agonize with him as he tries to find true love (or at least lose his virginity) despite his self-consciousness about his physical awkwardness, and we join him at the Lawson YMCA in downtown Chicago, where he rebuilds his body under the watchful eye of the manic physical-fitness coach Dick Woit, a retired football star who puts Steve through a sort of boot camp to raise his sights even higher and propel him off his crutches for good. Part guru, part drill instructor, Woit helps Steve to develop the mental toughness to put the injury behind him and to embrace adulthood and all its responsibilities. By turns poignant, darkly comic, and ultimately triumphant, Three Quarters, Two Dimes, and a Nickel is an affirmation of how the ordinary joys of life can win out even in extraordinary circumstances.
Lynda Barry author of The Good Times Are Killing Me Whether Steve Fiffer will ever walk again is the question that drives this amazing memoir. But the questions that make this book such a page-turner are central to any brilliant young man who is coming of age. Will he get a blue convertible? Will he finally figure out that the girl he is so in love with is a total bitch? Will he ever find true love? And before he finds it, will he get to make out a lot? I'd tell you, but I'd really hate to wreck the incredible ending.
Bob Shacochis author of Swimming in the Volcano and Easy in the Islands Steve Fiffer's agonizing journey from paralysis to independence is an utterly engrossing story, with much to offer any reader, able-bodied or not, anyone who struggles, as we all must, toward the human destination of wholeness -- wholeness of heart, of vision, of indomitable spirit.
Alex Kotlowitz author of There Are No Children Here and The Other Side of the River Steve Fiffer's moving story is told with frankness and verve. I found myself envying his gumption and humor -- and his friendship with Dick Woit, an old codger of a trainer, who ultimately pushes Fiffer to become whole again.