by David Haznaw and Marlene Byrne
Reviewed by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D.
This book is a ‘read’ of love! I met Marlene, one of the writers, at St. Mary of the Lake Seminary where she told me the story which, of course, brought me to tears. Her generosity and kindness ripped my heart out with joy. The story begins with Juan who was born into an impoverished family, with a severely cleft palate, in a country where children born with such conditions commonly are ostracized. As a young boy, he lost both his legs in a house fire, and soon after his mother who had raised him as a single parent died. Eventually, Juan came to Nuestros Pequenos Hermanos, a home for orphaned and vulnerable children in El Salvador, where he not only received shelter, food and safety, but an education, unconditional love and an opportunity to let his musical talents bloom. After being accepted to ShrinersHospital in Chicago for treatment of his cleft palate, Juan’s musical talent was uncovered and he would step into the spotlight to share his music and story with the world. This story is based on real people, real situations and Juan’s real journey. Marlene’s intrepid, optimistic and sometimes fanatical work to help others, and in particular Juan and all those involved with Nuestros Pequeños Hermanos, a network of orphanages helping children throughout Central and South America and the Caribbean, the other author David lets us know. David has loved music all his life as a fan and a musician. As you read this book, you’ll feel the sincerity and compassion exhibited by the three storytellers: Marlene Byrne, Father (now Bishop) Ron Hicks and Samuel Antonio Jimenez Coreas who grew up at NPR. These three people along with so many others, worked tirelessly to help Juan regain his health. His sense of self, and finally, to develop his passion for writing and performance music.
This story shows that anything worthwhile involves hard work, setbacks, faith and a strong support system. It will have as much impact on you the reader as it did on my life. This is an inspirational story. In the epilogue Juan Manuel Pineda performed “The Step Forward” concert pm May 13, 2021 at the Park West Theater in Chicago to raise funds for Haitian amputee children and adults, and NPH. It is estimated that between 2000 and 4000 children and adults endured amputations in Haiti as a result of the 7.0 magnitude earthquake on January 12, 2012. Juan dedicated his profits from the concert to NPH and to St. Damien Children’s Hospital and the Pequeños in Haiti. Juan returned to El Salvador in 2011 with the profits from his CD and lived at NPH for another year. When he left, he became a music teacher and taught English. He was married on Christmas Day in 2016. He continues to promote his songs and perform, working as a music teacher in a small village in El Salvador.
This book is filled with the kindness, generosity and love of all who interacted with Juan. I read the book In one night as the beauty of his life unfolded for the rest of the world to know. O would recommend this book to all especially as a completion to the complexity of life as we all live ours. Read it give it to a friend and realize that most of the people you meet each day are like Marlene, David and Bishop Ron Hicks. Live and love this story and when you finish reading it pass it on to another!