It isn’t often that a book comes along and grabs you by the jugular. Katie Steedly’s The Stage is on Fire did just that. At the same time, I’ve struggled to write this review in the weeks since I finished the book. I related to and adored the first two-thirds of the book. The last third left me angry and upset, which I will get to later. While I wouldn’t go out of my way to recommend the book, there are certain people I feel need to read the book, namely girls and women with Turner Syndrome. Actually, I would recommend it to anyone struggling to find their place in the world. That said, it is not for everyone.
Let me start with what’s working. Almost immediately, Katie’s voice struck me as authentic and powerful. She writes spirituality well, and never gives up on her quest to find her place in the world and create her own definition of home. In the book, Katie details several moves across the country, her experiences in academia – good and bad, and her experience participating in the study of women and girls with Turner Syndrome at the National Institutes of Health in Washington, DC. Turner Syndrome aside, I couldn’t help but relate to Katie throughout the book.
I am still in awe when I think of just how much Katie and I have in common. We both taught at some point. We are both writers. Both of us have moved across country to pursue new opportunities and a new life. In addition, both of us struggled with the idea of home and family at various times. I could go on and on. In the end, this is why I felt so disappointed in the ending. It seemed to unnecessarily divide people.
There are several things that stood out and continue to stand out in the book.
- Her first teaching experience did not end well – hence the title of the book. Oh, I can relate. In Katie’s case, she took the opportunity to further her education, eventually landing at the University of Texas in Austin. She did what everyone needs to do when facing failure: Get back up and try again. She does this many, many times throughout the book, always seeking something more.
- She captures the journey to find our place in the world, peace, and meaning in life beautifully. I may not agree with her completely when it comes to religion, but I can fully relate to her need to explore what religion and spirituality mean to her.
- It took incredible courage for her to participate in the National Institute of Health study. It is much more intense and in depth than I ever dreamed. Her description of what she felt emotionally while having an ultrasound knowing she will likely never experience pregnancy will stay with me. I only wish I had written it. Even though I experienced many of those same emotions as a child when I had an ultrasound, I wasn’t mature enough to fully express them at the time. Now, as an adult, the fact that those feelings have been so beautifully put into words is a true gift.
- Did I mention courage? During her time in Austin, Katie decided to walk/jog a marathon. A marathon. Prior to this, there is not much mention of any athletics in the book on her part. She is much more interested in drama, writing, and education. Yet, she did it. She accomplished the goal she set for herself, even if it was out of her element.
Oh, and dating. It is worth mentioning. Katie is far more adventurous in the dating world than I will ever be. At the time, she had yet to meet the right man. I get the impression that that may have changed. Her determination to not give up on love is inspirational – and something I desperately needed to read.
There is so much more in the book, but I will leave it for readers to discover. It is important to note that the book is written as a series of essays. I believe they are largely in chronological order. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter much. Katie clearly grows throughout the entire book, as does her definition of home. It may seem to be a small point, but I wish the formatting of the Kindle edition included a full title page between essays. Instead, they include small titles similar to chapter titles at the very top of the page. In fact, in writing this review, I had to check my Kindle version to see if each essay included a title at all. Each essay stands alone so beautifully, it is a shame that this feature of the book isn’t more prominently displayed.
Now to discuss what isn’t working. Frankly, I didn’t enjoy the last third of the book at all. I almost put it down. It became far too political for my tastes. It is one thing to pick up a book on politics, knowing what you are about to read, it is quite another to dive in head first after reading a seemingly different book in the beginning. I get why she wrote about politics. It became an important part of her life at that point in time. I don’t believe it was handled very well. I left feeling as though she couldn’t even begin to understand anyone who didn’t agree with her politically, which is truly unfortunate. No one has a monopoly on political truth. No one. I wish it had been handled with more care and less judgement. I get the feeling that Katie would be the last person to think of herself as judgmental, but that is how the political aspect of the book comes across, whether that was her intention or not.
Politics aside, I am happy I read the book. I am grateful that Katie can connect emotionally with people through her writing. Her writing is just beginning to teach me how to express what I thought impossible. For that, I am truly grateful. I love the fact that I can annotate and highlight my Kindle version of The Stage is on Fire. I will be coming back to it as I continue to write. You can find her website and blog here.