Any biography of Sullivan must, of necessity, also be the biography of Keller, so entwined were their lives. Hickok establishes this work as a biography of Sullivan first by providing her early life as a story in itself rather than as background or explanation of the accomplishments for which she became famous.
Hickok’s dark and depressing portrait of Sullivan’s early life is an indictment of society, both individually and collectively, which is documented in other sources as well. Hickok balances her criticism of Sullivan’s family and the state of Massachusetts, however, with an acknowledgment of Sullivan’s stubbornness and violent outbursts. Hickok also attempts to soften the fact that her blindness should have been prevented by pointing out that it was ignorance rather than maliciousness that caused her suffering. The cruel and vulgar inmates and attendants at Tewksbury are offset by a few kind and caring people, and the despair and discouragement Sullivan suffers are offset by a glimmer of hope that she may someday go to school.
The achievement of the impossible dream of going to Perkins Institute for the Blind is clouded by the reality of how poorly Sullivan fits in. Even her joy at receiving sight at age sixteen is dulled by the knowledge that she never should have been blind in the first place, nor should she have suffered through years of pointless surgeries and painful treatments.
Annie’s struggle with the...
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Much has been written about Sullivan in connection with Keller—so much so, in fact, that it would be difficult to choose the best introduction to these fascinating women. Younger readers might begin by reading Keller’s autobiography, The Story of My Life (1902). Older readers might be better reached by either William Gibson’s play The Miracle Worker (1959) or its film adaptation (1962). Hickok’s biography is for more mature readers—mature both in reading ability and in exposure to life’s hardships. The Touch of Magic is not a book for the faint of heart; Annie and her brother play in the “dead house” with rats and roaches, and they live with violence and insanity.
Hickok was a journalist as well as an author of books; she often wrote about Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt, including authoring books about them for young people. She writes with a journalist’s and a historian’s eye for correctness and detail. In The Touch of Magic, she is true to the historical context, frequently providing reference dates, and she inserts asides (especially in the early chapters) to tell readers that certain events and attitudes were the result of the ignorance of the times.