When Joel Sonnenberg was 22 months old, a car accident at a New Hampshire toll booth burned him severely. More than 85 percent of his body suffered third-degree burns. That was Sept. 15, 1979.
"Joel" is published by Zondervan.
He's also an author, having completed Joel, a first-person account of his life to this point. Through roughly 200 pages, Sonnenberg and co-author Gregg Lewis present a chronological overview of Sonnenberg's life. It's peppered with medical history and heartbreak, scholastic achievement and joy.
Joel, from Zondervan, is easy to read but difficult to take in. That is, when Sonnenberg describes the accident—cars crunching, flames shooting, people reacting—the horror of it leaps off the page and sticks with you. The physical toll it took on Sonnenberg's little body will disturb any reader.
Sonnenberg describes how he spent much of his time in those months after the accident screaming—not only in pain, but also in frustration at the doctors, the needles, the bandages, the situation itself.
Sonnenberg, who suffers no pain now, writes about the lengths to which his parents went to give him a childhood. Those lengths included having the parents visit school on the first day—with Joel absent—to share Joel's story with his new classmates.
Sonnenberg has endured everything that goes along with "looking different," and he writes about that fact with aplomb.
"I thought I looked a lot like ET in one of my all-time favorite movies," Sonnenberg writes. "Everyone loved ET. Nobody thought he needed plastic surgery."
For every bit of Sonnenberg's wit, however, he relates some of the cruel things others have said. To endure such, he and his family relied on their Christian faith, which Sonnenberg mentions frequently.
Sonnenberg and Lewis include some of the many newspaper articles about the family. Some of the most poignant cover the trial of the truck driver who caused the accident.
The driver, Reginald Henry Dort, was apprehended 18 years after the accident, and the Sonnenberg family had opportunity to confront him in the courtroom. That "confrontation" provides Sonnenberg with a moment to write about forgiveness—and just one more amazing side of the remarkable family.
Sonnenberg, who suffered no lung or vocal chord damage, writes in the epilogue: "I feel that God has specially gifted me to be a communicator at this time in history. We live in a visual age. And I am very much a visual guy."
From start to finish, readers get a first-hand glimpse into the heart of a living miracle. Joel the man makes Joel the book worth reading.
Cliff Vaughn is culture editor for EthicsDaily.com.
Buy Joel now from Amazon.com
Click here to read the book's first chapter in PDF (requires Adobe Acrobat Reader).