I was asked by Shepherd Books to list my 3 favorite books for 2023.
My list is Here – Freeing Teresa came top, followed by Wonder Drug and Escape from Model Land.
The overall Shepherd Best Books for 2023 List Is Here.
Freeing Teresa is different to anything else. It’s uplifting as well as dramatic. In 2024, the world desperately needs more of us to follow the lead Teresa Franke and Bill have set.
Wonder Drug in contrast is reminder of just how bad things can get.
Escape from Model Land is technical but covers a real life issue – the judgement calls we make rather than the models we appeal to shape our lives and living our life or even living a real life means making our judgements. Nowhere is this more true than in health, where models have had a disastrous influence.
Reviews of Freeing Teresa
These reviews have appeared on the web. I’ve left in the names of people I know who I’m sure will be happy to have their names noted.
Courageous journey of a couple facing a family crisis handling the best choice for a disabled loved one
Canadian author/artist and environmental activist Franke James was brought up in a loving supportive family with her five other siblings. Her youngest sister, Teresa, born with Down syndrome, lived her entire life with the abundant support of her progressive parents. Life changes when her mother passes, and she is then in the care of her aging father. What ensues is a heart-wrenching power struggle among the siblings to determine where Teresa will live. Franke draws on her activist training and documents each step in finding the best situation for her sister, in the face of painful confrontations with her siblings. The story illuminates the current climate towards those with intellectual disabilities and charts a path worth exploring.
An inspiring record of activism meets ableism
Franke James’s writing and way with words are stunning. I was hooked from the heart. A jubilant and tumultuous record of joy, heartbreak, family betrayal, pissing off government, art, activism and ableism.
Having somebody with special needs in my family truly made this ring true, and I can’t recommend it enough.
A beautiful read
Fighting for Independence
In Freeing Teresa, Franke James describes the great lengths she goes to keep her forty-nine-year-old sister, Teresa, who has Down’s syndrome, from spending the rest of her life in a nursing home. With fierce honesty, Ms. James details the bitter struggle that ensues between herself, her husband, her aging father, and Teresa on one side and her four siblings and their spouses on the other. It is a struggle of one vision of individuals with intellectual disabilities living independently in the community with supports against an archaic view that sees them as helpless and unable to be trusted in making their own decisions. The book is a powerfully written and intimate account of an unresolvable family conflict over the best future for one of their own, a must-read for friends, family and supporters of individuals with intellectual disabilities.
I am a fan of Teresa, Franke and Bill!
Bill wears glasses bigger than his sharp face, sings the song of a strange(!) title, makes vivid collage artworks, and has a trustworthy attitude. Bill is a really nice person. So it was Bill who I was interested in this book for the first time.
Then through it, I am now a fan of his wife Franke and his sister-in-law Teresa. The book is full of issues that concern everyone but they just face all the joys and difficulties in such a natural way. I wish I could be a member of the family.
I recommend everyone read it
Everyone Should be Franke James
Franke James lives by and stands up for her principles. Freeing Teresa is a beautiful story of a sister’s love and standing up for what is right. It also exposes the ugly underbelly of mistreatment of the mentally disabled, in this instance Teresa who has Down Syndrome. Even though one knows at the beginning that Teresa is freed, the story, particularly at the end is riveting, and I couldn’t wait to find out what happened next; how did they get out of this, how did they get out of that.
A Quarrel That Tore a Family Apart
Patrick D Hahn
Franke James is an artist and activist. Her sister Theresa Heartchild was born with Down’s syndrome but still managed to have a good life. But all this was imperiled when she reached the end of her forties, and the father who had cared for her all her life reached his nineties. Franke’s brother and sisters wanted to put Theresa in a nursing home, where, in James’s words, she would be literally “bored to death.” Initially, none of the siblings (Franke included) was prepared to take in Theresa for the rest of her life, and all of them were well aware of tales of neglect and abuse in state-run care homes, but only Franke was determined to find a better alternative.
Author James is careful not to demonize her now-estranged brother and sisters, who for most of the book come across as decent human beings trying to do the right thing in a situation where there are no good choices. But events take a sinister turn when Franke and her husband generously offer to take in Theresa for the rest of her life – and incidentally endangering their brother’s and sisters’ inheritance.
This is a poignant story of a quarrel that tore a family apart, but there is a wider message here. The elephant in the room is a care industry that has less to do with providing care for society’s most vulnerable members and more to do with maximizing profits for the pharmaceutical industry. What if we took ninety-five percent of the money we spend on polydrugging the residents of these places and used it to hire more attendants and pay them more? Would placing a loved in in a care home still seem like such a dire choice?
A Story of Persevering for What Is Right
Finding Teresa is a powerful account of helping people who experience disability to lead good lives and supporting them to advocate for themselves. It reminds us all to think in a way that assumes people are capable of more and act in ways that create the conditions for that capability to flourish.
The way the story is written makes you feel as if you were there, experiencing the mounting conflict, the family dynamics, the 11th-hour desperation, and the resolution that the reader hoped for all along. It’s hard to read about the impact these events have on a whole family, yet in the end one can easily understand that it was the right decision for Teresa.
For anyone who wants to learn more about activism, self-advocacy, rights, supporting people who experience disability, or just to read a story about what is possible with a commitment to an ideal and perseverance in achieving it, read this book.
A gripping true story combating ableism
Freeing Teresa is a story that truly grips your heart. The book’s writing style fully engages the reader causing an instinctive reaction of compassion and empathy for the people who lived out this true story.
Furthermore, this story describes, by telling of one’s lived experience, what ableism looked like for her. The world is full of ableism and deception, but this story is a testament that proper respect and truth will win!
Amazing book filled with heartache, strength, love, family and advocacy. If you are interested in reading about a journey that showcases some of the harsh realities of how people with disabilities are treated within the community and how we can advocate for better education and care, I highly recommend this book. It is beautiful to see how Teresa, Franke and Bill all stayed together and built a beautiful life in the face of injustice.
A timely and important story
This compelling family saga elegantly mirrors broader questions of self-determination, autonomy, and the rights of disabled and vulnerable people to control their own destinies. Disabled people in Canada and elsewhere may have full human rights on paper. The reality, as James eloquently demonstrates, is often more complicated and disturbing. Without spoiling the ending too much, it’s safe to say that this remarkable book is first and foremost an uplifting success story, a testament to the healing and liberatory power of love.
“Freeing Teresa” could be summed up in this quote by Thomas Merton: “Love triumphs, at least in this life, not by eliminating evil but by resisting and overcoming it anew every day.”
A heart-wrenching and riveting read
A heart-wrenching and riveting read. It is difficult to read the unfolding of this story and the unravelling of a family. The story ends, and we are left asking for more. A great read.
A very brave book
This is a very brave book. It reveals a catastrophic breakdown in family relations when the youngest sibling of a well-to-do Toronto family needs a safe and loving home, a place where her specific needs as a functioning Down Syndrome adult can be met, a place where she can thrive. When her father approaches the end of his life, he believes that all will be well, but before that day he wants her to either stay with him or with one of her brothers or sisters. Franke and Bill are shocked to find out that there is a plan to put her sister Teresa in a nursing home, and that, more or less is where things begin in this book. It is the story of Teresa and of Franke’s determination and capacity to respond to her siblings and protect Teresa.
It’s really compelling story, and beautifully told. I learned a lot about how easily a person’s rights can be taken away, and how, even people with privilege and money, will ‘use the system’ to throw a family member in an institution where their ability to thrive and to live their own life will be quickly compromised.
This is the first part of a longer saga about Teresa’s journey to becoming an artist, and to living the life that her parents set in motion when she was a small child — someone who is not treated as “disabled”, someone who can speak for herself.
There is more below but first Teresa has just made the Community Living cover. The inside story is here: Teresa Finds a Home :
Here she is reacting to being in the news with word circulating on Instagram. Here is a video of her reactions : Teresa is wowed by the story about her in Community Living Magazine.
ADVANCE PRAISE for Freeing Teresa
“Gut-wrenching and awe-inspiring. This story will break your heart and then fill it up again.”
Catherine McKercher, author of Shut Away
“A gripping story about courage, love, and an unshakeable belief in human potential.”
Marty Seldman, Ph.D. author of Survival of the Savvy
“A courageous, personal account of fighting the system—and family—to free Teresa from forced care.”
Alanna Hendren, Executive Director, Developmental Disabilities Assoc.
“Full of insight, heartbreak and inspiration. This no-holds-barred story is a must-read for anyone who cares about disability rights.”
Karla Verschoor, Executive Director, Inclusion BC
“A must-read for anyone who cares about human dignity and equal rights. A truly amazing story.”
George Melnyk, Professor Emeritus, Communication, Media and Film, University of Calgary
“We chart the prevalence of injustice in numbers, but it’s stories like this that lead us to a deeper understanding of the magnitude of its impact on human lives.”
Gabrielle Peters, disabled writer, community activist
“Authentic, raw and riveting. It was an emotional rollercoaster—one that will be very real for many disabled people. At its core, it’s about hope for a better life and resilience.”
Isabel Mavrides-Calderon @Powerfullyissa, Disability Advocate