Book Review: I Choose to Be Happy, by Missy Jenkins with William Croyle

In October of 1997, Missy Jenkins, a student at Heath High School in Paducah, Kentucky, heard about the school shootings in Pearl, Mississippi and her first thoughts were of compassion towards the students there, and a belief that something like that would never happen in her hometown. Sadly, just a few months later, Jenkins would find herself on the floor of her high school’s lobby, shot and unable to feel anything below her chest.

Jenkins was just a 15 year old sophomore when she stood in Heath High School’s prayer circle the morning of December 1, 1997. A fellow student – a bandmate and someone Jenkins described as funny and a jokester – Michael Carneal, came to school with numerous guns and ammunition, opening fire on the prayer circle and killing three, injuring five. I Choose to Be Happy is Missy Jenkins’ account of that day, her feelings about (and ultimate forgiveness of) Michael and his actions, and her medical recovery and new life as a paraplegic.

I found Jenkins’ voice sweet and sincere, and was inspired by the courage she and her family showed in the face of such dramatic life changes. I say “dramatic” and not “tragic,” because from the start, Missy and her family were determined to have only a positive, powerful focus during her recovery. They were sad for their community, and for the loss of three of Missy’s classmates, but their faith and strength managed to keep them above regret and anger and resentment.

Throughout the book, Jenkins shares her unique perspective on a number of topics: why Michael Carneal might have done what he did, what it was like in their community afterward, what everyday life as a paraplegic involves. She shares what it was like to be in physical therapy, the little complications of going back to school, and her many interactions with national media outlets. She even gives her personal account of the jailhouse conversation she had with Michael Carneal years after the shooting occured. The narrative wanders a little at times, but it is an interesting and inspirational read. Because above all, Jenkins testifies to the fact that despite seemingly insurmountable challenges, each of us can choose to be happy, and can choose to live a full, faithful life.

Book details:

Publisher: LangMarc Publishing
Format: Paperback
Publish Date: 10/15/08
Pages: 260