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December 22, 1985|KRISTIANA GREGORY

WHEELS FOR WALKING by Sandra Richmond (Atlantic Monthly, $13.95; 196 pp.; age 12 and up). If you've ever parked in a handicapped zone then sprinted into the store, you won't after reading this. Wheelchair awareness will soar 100%.

Sally is 18 years old with everything going for her until the weekend she and Brian go skiing. A car accident severs her spinal chord and leaves her paralyzed from the chest down. Her struggle to rebuild her life is a compelling, blunt story.

The author packs power into her narrative only as one who has lived it can. Her own tragic experience authenticates the brutal truth about being a quadriplegic; the curled fingers, not being able to go to the bathroom by yourself, the anger, the emptiness. "From a distance I could hear the nurses laughing. I wonder who else was lying quietly alone, listening to them laugh." Reading this, you wonder about those who lie quietly alone.

This is contemporary realism with hope, heartwarming and heartbreaking at the same time, an honest novel with no corners painted out. Sally's rehabilitation is grueling, slow, at times hopeless. She just wants to be normal again, to ski, go to college, make love. "I wonder what it would be like to stand up in front of him--to reach up and put my arms around his neck. But it will never happen. I will never stand anywhere."

Finally, Sally begins to cope. "At least I have run in the sand. I have been there. I'll always have the memory." When doctors say it's possible for her to have a family, photos of Brian are retrieved from a drawer, and she again feels hope. The idea of having a baby is "like a miracle . . . I feel my blood rushing through me, my heart beating. I can still be a woman!"

Some might be offended by a few drops of profanity, but kids hear worse on TV. This is a perfect chance for consciousness raising or bibliotherapy should you know a teen in similar pain.

A happy note: The book jacket shows the author near her home in British Columbia, on a beach strewn with driftwood. She is in a wheelchair and on her lap is a toddler. Both are beaming.

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