Gabrielle Giffords: politician, advocate, survivor and fighter.
After reading, “Gabby: A Story of Courage and Hope,” the new memoir by Gabrielle Giffords and her husband, Mark Kelly, the reader is left with an infinite number of ways to describe this incredible woman. However, the memoir does not solely focus on the recovery of Giffords. Rather it seamlessly transitions between chronicling the lives of two ambitious individuals devoted to serving the American people, and how their love has endured demanding careers and unthinkable circumstances.
The memoir tackles many subjects. Told from Kelly’s perspective, he takes the reader throughout time, only loosely concerned with constructing his and Giffords’ story chronologically. This structure focuses on detailing Giffords’ recovery, while being interspersed with flashbacks from their separate lives and professional careers.
Kelly also gives an account of the day of the shooting, both from Giffords’ perspective, and his own. Though like all the threads in this story, this tragic event is detailed throughout many chapters, which helps to propel the memoir forward.
Kelly constantly reinforces that Giffords has defied the odds. Up to 95 percent of people who are shot in the head die almost immediately. Of the few who survive, some never come out of a coma, and most are seriously impaired for life.
Giffords, who began making significant strides by recovering just days following her attack, exists in the rare 1 percent.
Yet, while her story is truly remarkable, the memoir also depicts the difficulties of Giffords’ recovery—for both her and Kelly. Who knew that powerful woman with a promising political career would suddenly be subjected to, “taking baby steps through a torturous recovery,” as she remains trapped inside herself, unable to communicate for months. Through Kelly’s eyes, we witness this U.S. Representative’s struggle with aphasia and physical impairment on the right side of her body. The scenes of her speech and physical therapy are perhaps the most difficult, yet moving passages in the memoir.
Kelly also expresses how, after Giffords’ injury, he “had to become someone who taught patience to others,” and now feels “as if [his] dreams [have] become completely basic.” As Kelly grapples with an explanation for this sinister event, he often turns to fate as an explanation.
The book opens showing Kelly and Giffords on the beach, coping with the aftermath of the shooting, as Kelly is about to venture into space to command his fourth and final mission on the space shuttle, Endeavour. From here, Kelly takes the reader through flashbacks that describe Kelly and Giffords’ separate pasts before they met one another, their courtship, and how they ultimately found a powerful love in one other.
The reader receives a comprehensive understanding of both Kelly and Giffords, as the memoir takes on the ambitious challenge of detailing their separate lives from childhood. On the one hand, there is Giffords, “born as an overachiever,” who realized early on that, “the highest calling in [her] own life was service to others.” We are told of her early life in Tucson, her educational achievements, and the decisions she made that led to a successful political career. We also see how young Kelly, an unmotivated child growing up in New Jersey, came to be one of the elite few to ever have the opportunity to fly in space, along with his twin brother, Scott.
The memoir, divided into 23 chapters, appropriately reflects Giffords’ struggle with language, as each chapter is entitled with short phrases, some of which she actually said like, “Fly Away Home.”
This memoir can be difficult to read as it contains many heavy moments, and is tinged by sadness throughout. However, Kelly and Giffords’ story is exceptional from start to end as we watch their love unfold, be tested, and ultimately triumph.
The final chapter gives reason for the world to hope, as Giffords writes one page, completely in her own voice. She acknowledges that she is “grateful to survive,” concedes she has a “long way to go,” while nonetheless insisting, “I will get stronger. I will return.”