Summer's School Book Review
Michael J. Hoggatt’s journey began in 1996. He thought that he wanted to be a history professor, not a Special Education teacher, but, as he says, “God had other plans.” As those plans unfold, we see him and his wife Mandy struggle to adopt a child, then finally welcome a young disabled girl named Summer into their home. This change brings profound challenges but even more profound joy, and what Hoggatt learns along the way becomes the impetus for his memoir, Summer’s School: Lessons Taught Along a Journey Through Foster Care, Disability, and Health Care by the Bravest Girl I Know (Hoggatt Consulting).
Hoggatt’s project serves many purposes, the most important of which is a written testament to God’s way of turning every individual’s story into a transformative life lesson. In this case, the author’s adoptive daughter, Summer, becomes a story that can uplift, enlighten and inspire good in us all. One crucial takeaway is hope. Hope sustains Summer, her family, and ultimately, us as readers.
Getting to know his future daughter is a tumultuous journey for Hoggatt, from their first meeting, when she throws her little arms around him, to their first outing, when she instead throws tantrum after tantrum. Hoggatt provides wonderful insights into the natures of welcoming and belonging, emphasizing how little of those comforts Summer experienced in her past and his mission to give her them now.
ADOPTION IS ONLY THE BEGINNING
One thing no one can give her is perfect health, however; Summer survives cancer, a horrific tumor having taken over her entire left kidney. The narrative takes a sharp turn, and it’s almost physically painful to read. By the end, we see a 15-year-old who “praises the God who heals” and proudly shows off her scar. Her perspective is genuinely inspiring.
Hoggatt gives practical advice along with more abstract wisdom. The book is organized around eight key lessons learned from Summer, exploring themes such as loss, hope, belonging, priorities, grace, gratitude, courage, beauty and patience. These lessons are interspersed with sections of notes “From the Family Archives,” aka Hoggatt’s journals. He examines pertinent biblical passages to elucidate his reflections; it’s easy to imagine that were he to lead a Bible study, it would be an insightful and inspiring one.
He quotes other writers, scholars and influences and provides ample research and footnotes, quietly showcasing a wealth of knowledge while doing so. The writing is nonetheless quite accessible; Hoggatt even references a scene from a Disney movie starring Shia LeBouef.
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BOTH PRACTICAL AND PROFOUND WISDOM
Our author bravely breaches the hard things. Acknowledging that “every adoption starts with loss,” for example, he doesn’t want to paint a picture of his home and family with only rosy colors. How do we move on from loss? What’s the next step? Not dismissal, that’s for sure. We can’t just ignore it. Instead, says Hoggatt, take the high road and exercise compassion, and he details the measures needed to do so effectively. His reflections on beauty are touching and inspiring, but he sagely juxtaposes them with useful terms; “loss-tourists” attempt denial as opposed to “residents” who accept and balance both the pain and the power.
He adds factual information about the foster care and adoption systems and is honest about how unsure he and his wife were all along the way, offering a refreshing candor that helps deepen our understanding of his messages of hope and love.
Hoggatt’s Christian lens is clear and comforting as he praises the Lord. One piece of advice? When you fight doubt and end up lamenting “but I’m not …” this or that, he has a great coping skill. Follow that “but” with another one, “but God …” because God is bigger than all those small difficulties. Hoggatt acknowledges scenes of hopelessness in the Bible, then identifies a God who turns them around and exceeds all expectations. Whether or not you are Christian, or religious at all, Summer’s School shines like a beacon of light in a dark world, a light illuminating the good in humanity. It’s impossible not to be affected when reading this book.