Karen Duffy’s second book, Backbone: Living with Chronic Pain Without Turning into One, is meant to be a funny and motivational read. Duffy has certainly lived through more days of illness and pain than not. And she has some celebrity cred which adds a bit to the story, but doesn’t overwhelm her perspective.

Duffy lives with chronic sarcoidosis, a rare disease of the central nervous system. It sounds incredibly painful and debilitating. Despite that, she’s a hockey mom and volunteer, among other things. I heartily commend her for giving back to the world in any way she can. Duffy takes her faith and its maxims seriously. But she makes jokes about nearly everything else, including some wildly cringe-worthy moments as a hospital chaplain in the making.

Unfortunately, I just didn’t care for Duffy’s writing style. It’s just not as funny as she thinks it is. Plus, there are times when she’s incredibly tone deaf. And yet, she means well as she talks about giving back to the world. Long story short, Backbone was a mixed bag for me.

It would have benefitted from a better structural framework. I struggled to feel the flow from chapter to chapter. For example Duffy heads right from a brief Teddy Roosevelt bio into a chapter of style and fashion advice for the chronically ill woman. Wow, what?

I have to admit that by the third chapter, I was already frustrated at how often Duffy quotes other people in Backbone. And it never stops. This book of one woman’s wisdom is overfilled with OPW (other people’s wisdom). Ultimately, it made the book feel amateurish and like she was padding the content to reach a page count.

My conclusions:

Duffy is one tough woman. She’s figured out the upside of things that most people hope to avoid until their last few decades (or later). When she wants something, she figures out a way. And on the flip side, Duffy knows that some days simply reading a great book will be her best accomplishment. It’s all about balance when living with chronic illness and pain.

If you’re looking for a quick book with a unique perspective on living well with chronic illness, this is a decent choice. Amazing it is not.


Thanks to NetGalley, Skyhorse Publishing, and Arcade Publishing for the opportunity to read the digital ARC in exchange for this honest review.