Book Review: “Forever Changed” by Linda Mornell

Forever changed coverForever Changed tells the story of psychiatric nurse Linda Mornell, who founded Summer Search. Summer Search is a national organization with a comprehensive program that gives “high school students what they need to develop the personal and practical skills to become college-educated leaders who give back to their families and communities.”

The subtitle of Forever Changed reads as follows: “How Summer Programs and Insight Mentoring Challenge Adolescents and Transform Lives.” While there’s certainly some information on this important subject in the book, neither the subtitle nor the Summer Search mission statement quoted above give an adequate idea of the rich content and compelling stories that await within.

The epigraph for the first chapter of Forever Changed quotes Salman Rusdie: “Those who do not have the power over the the story that dominates their lives, the power to retell it, to rethink it, deconstruct it…and change it as times change…cannot think new thoughts.” This begins to hint at what Mornell is really after in her book: how understanding the stories that make up our lives gives power to change.

The stories in Forever Changed are, in fact, juicy. Mornell uses her own story of starting Summer Search on a shoestring and growing it into a national organization—truly new territory for her—as the framework for telling the stories of participants in the Summer Search programs, often in their own fascinating words.

This is a book that gives hope. The lives of adolescents that Mornell worked with through Summer Search have in many cases been profoundly changed for the better. There’s also insight. What kind of person sticks with it and makes it despite incredible privations? How do you best interview adolescents from troubled backgrounds, and get them to open up and tell their stories? It turns out that even the intake interviews that Mornell and Summer Search conducted have been transformative, and Mornell explains why, her accounts leavened with a sense of humor about the process of growing up in less than privileged situations.

Read  Forever Changed for the stories of the triumph of hope and persistence over adversity and an increasingly sclerotic class system. Come away with insight on a number of fronts, most of all how we can make a difference.

Forever Changed is published by Triumph Books, ISBN 978-1-62937-022-4, illustrated, $24.95. Click here for the link to Forever Changed on Amazon.

Full disclosure: I am a friend and admirer of Linda Mornell and the work she has done at Summer Search, and had several discussions with Linda about her book while it was still in manuscript.

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