Graham Gardner is arguably the true protagonist, and ‘hero’ in his father’s eyes, in Dr. Steven Gardner’s rousing memoir Jabberwocky: Lessons of Love from a Boy who Never Spoke. Gardner is an experienced clinician and associate Professor of Medicine at Harvard University, so needless to say his gravitas and sense of authority on the topics he presents in the book feel more than finite.


What is surprising, however, is his startlingly effective abilities as a storyteller. While not necessarily pristine, he paints evocative imagery with his simple but effective, concise and bell-clear narrative choices that immediately place the reader not inside the head of an experienced professional’s diagnosis for a disabled person, but rather a father’s journey to help boost and provide for his son. Such a boost comes in the form of the wondrous, titular Camp Jabberwocky – an intensive Martha’s Vineyard-based summer program for handicapped children. As Gardner brilliantly paints in each of Jabberwocky’s pages, the program gradually draws his son out of the alienation stemming from his challenges and enables him to succeed beyond wildest dreams. It not only changes his life for the better, but the lives of everyone in the Gardner family as a result.

Like any powerful piece of writing, action is never without consequence. Sadly, real life isn’t as angelic as one would like it to be. Despite his many triumphs over adversity, Graham Gardner sadly passed away from complications related to a seizure at twenty-two years old. What he left behind, however, was a legacy his family proudly continues to promote and a sense of wonder, wisdom, and humility in his father. Dr. Gardner knows a thing or two about statistics, and he lays such critical information for the reader in equally clear, concise writing.

Concepts that often can confuse or overwhelm are laid out in caring, empathetic, and wholly understandable fashion. But this is only enhanced by Gardner’s clear and abiding love for his son, because of everything he is, never in spite of his challenges or of certain things. This is communicated so beautifully through cutting-edge yet never overtly sentimental prose that Jabberwocky’s story feels transcendent of the specificities surrounding Graham’s condition. It reaches for something far more universal – in many ways like a motivational, rallying cry.

Never allow the external to stop you from what you know you are capable of. Never compromise yourself because of what others tell you that you can or cannot do. Continue to strive, but most importantly – continue to dream.

Garth Thomas