Why we love it: Penguin Bloom is a truly original book – part photographic journal, part tragic story – and readers of all kinds will fall in love with the stunning images and be moved to the core by the heartrending narrative.
In Penguin Bloom, professional photographer Cameron Bloom tells the story of his beloved wife Sam and how a horrendous accident shattered their beautiful family life on a dream holiday in Thailand. The story starts from the fateful day when a young Cameron meets Sam at her father’s bakery in Newport Beach, Sydney. The beautiful tale turns chilling when Cameron recalls that dreadful day when everything changed for the whole family.
While Sam thankfully survived her terrible fall from a defective balcony, she spent months rehabilitating in Sydney. Once out of hospital though, her world fell apart as it dawned on her that life would never be the same again. The horrific injuries from her accident left her paralysed from the chest down. She was spiraling into darkness and depression when into the family’s life came an injured sickly young magpie. “Sam felt broken and utterly adrift,” says Cameron in Penguin Bloom. “I saw the light in her eyes grown dim. I know she was withdrawing from this world. And then Penguin arrived.”
Sam nursed Penguin back to health and the whole family loved and adored this mischievous young bird. Soon Sam was finding some ways to enjoy life again. During this time Cameron chronicled their life with stunning photos of Sam, their three young boys, Rueben, Noah and Oliver, and their beloved new pet, and so was born Penguin Bloom.
The text of the book is Cameron’s narrative of his life with Sam, the accident, the gradual healing not just of Sam, but each member of this heartbroken family. Each chunk of narrative is accompanied by these amazing images, some funny, some poignant, all incredibly captivating. Cameron’s story, told with the help of Bradley Trevor Greive (author of the bestselling Blue Day Book), is written with clear, straightforward insight about what happened to his family. It’s hard to read without being reduced to tears but don’t let that deter you, for this is ultimately a remarkable, inspiring story.
In turn, Sam addresses readers directly and particularly those with spinal cord injuries. She is blunt and honest. “You deserve the truth and I promise you nothing else.” She’s not going to tell us that having such an injury has inspired her to a better life or offer any clichéd solutions. “I am not at peace with my condition,” she tells us. “I absolutely detest being paralysed and I cringe whenever I hear the word ‘disabled’. I would give almost anything to stand on my own two feet again.”
She is forthright about the bitterness, the anger, and the depths of depression to which she has sometimes sunk, and she’s brutally honest about the envy at those still able to enjoy a normal life and the acute embarrassment she suffered at the loss of her physical abilities. In doing so, she is able to convey a sense of how it feels to go from being a sporty, able-bodied woman to becoming paraplegic and yet she doesn’t court sympathy; instead she offers practical wisdom. Addressing anyone who has a friend or family member with a spinal cord injury, she acknowledges how hard it is for them, but offers sound advice:
“All I can tell you is try to communicate normally – do your best to look past the wheelchair to the person you’ve always known and loved.”
With the help of Penguin, Sam does gradually find meaning in her life. She makes her feel that she can be useful and helpful again – not solely dependent on those around her. This, and her determination to get out and enjoy life, mean that Sam is now finding some semblance of healing in her life. “But whatever the pain and the regret,” she says. “I know that every day I can share with my family is a gift.”
Cameron Bloom, Bradley Trevor Greive and ABC Books are proud to donate a percentage of royalties from the sale of each copy of Penguin Bloom to support SpinalCure Australia. Every day another Australian is paralysed by a spinal cord injury. For more information about how SpinalCure funds medical research to find a cure for this devastating condition go to www.spinalcure.org.au