This memoir purposefully intertwines a personal and professional coming of age with the chronic illness that shaped it. Roney's stories of her adolescence, college years, and beyond (she is now a graduate student approaching her fortieth birthday) integrate the story of her diagnosis with juvenile diabetes around age 12 and her changing approaches to living with, rather than simply "managing," her illness.

How diabetes inflected Roney's development as a woman, including such issues as body image; food, eating, and weight; and sexuality and love relationships, is a recurrent focus, with her unsatisfactory relationships with men often taking center stage. One chapter addresses her decision, in the face of fears about blindness, to become a writer instead of a visual artist. Other sections address travel and exercise, both explored as solo experiences and as struggles negotiated in the company of friends and strangers. Roney's experiences with family members and medical professionals in the context of her illness are an occasional focus.

While in most of the memoir Roney positions herself as an ill person in relationships with healthy people, in two sections she explores her relationship to others with diabetes: a woman her own age whose illness has made her completely blind, and her aging cat. Throughout the memoir, Roney moves from her own experience to broader philosophical reflections on the social construction of illness, especially the way that interpersonal relationships shaped by "invisible" disabilities like diabetes reflect cultural beliefs about illness and how it changes personhood.


One of Roney's main points is the inseparability of her life story and her illness story. She writes," I cannot wish my disease away, as it permeates my self completely now. Instead, I try to learn its preferences like those of any spouse, to coddle and indulge it like any favorite, to understand the secrets it shares with me, to value its constant, deepening companionship all the way to the grave: my diabetes, the one lover that will never leave me, the one I think of all the time, the only one that penetrates me to my soul." (p. 220) At the same time, there is a separation in the memoir between narrative moments that particularize and elucidate life lived with diabetes and narrative moments that don't clearly contribute to that focus.

At its best moments, this lushly written memoir is a cultural analysis of chronic illness made stronger by an autobiographical voice, reminiscent of the essays in Minding The Body: Women Writers on Body and Soul (see this database). Chapter 4, "Hunger and Plenty," is an important exploration of the shifty position of a young woman with diabetes on the "complex social matrix" (p. 138) of eating. Roney's commentary on the similarity between the "pathologized" self-monitoring of anorexics and bulimics and the necessary, approval-garnering "control" diabetics apply to their bodily pathology is a brilliant extension and complication of Susan Bordo's argument in Unbearable Weight: Feminism, Western Culture, and the Body (Berkeley: Univ. California Press, 1993) about the continuum between pathologized and normalized weight behaviors.

A briefer, equally provocative analysis targets the cultural messages about the sexuality of disabled people that are embedded in the failure to tell Roney that diabetes makes her especially vulnerable to sexually transmitted diseases. The memoir also has flashes of brilliant exploration of how the "compliance" so often demanded of diabetics within medical contexts is also exacted in other cultural sites with dangerous consequences, as when Roney acts as if diabetes is no big deal in order to fit in socially, in the process endangering both her health and her self-concept. These discussions are worth further development, along the lines of Susan Wendell's The Rejected Body: Feminist Philosophical Reflections on Disability (annotated in this database), which would be a productive book to read alongside this memoir.

Roney's interesting explorations of illness identities as something constructed interpersonally are sometimes obscured, ironically, by Roney's love for and facility with language: the focus doesn't always hold. A more significant distraction is Roney's apparent desire to settle many past scores. These tensions notwithstanding, the book is an unprecedented mix of autobiography and cultural analysis of diabetes and could be useful both for people (and their loved ones) living with diabetes and in various scholarly contexts.


Henry Holt

Place Published

New York



Page Count