• Counting Bones: Anatomy of Love Lost and Found

Counting Bones: Anatomy of Love Lost and Found


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978-177439-092-4 | 2024 April | 192 Pages


When she was twenty-four years old, Ellen Anderson Penno lost her partner in a climbing accident while they were ascending Mount Baker in Washington’s Cascade Range.

The avalanche hid his body in a crevasse just weeks before Penno was slated to begin medical school, and she soon found herself torn between deferring her studies for a year, or starting right away with a full course load.

Rather than succumbing to grief and risk never beginning her medical education at all, Penno plunged deep into her studies, surrounded by death on all sides, struggling to maintain her way through her turbulent emotions and a rigorous med school schedule.

In this stirring and often mordantly funny new memoir, Ellen Anderson Penno structures a story of mourning, loss, despair and love through the lens of the classic medical text Gray’s Anatomy, showing readers what becomes of those who must rebuild their lives after tragedy strikes.

    Counting Bones is a book about grief told not obliquely, but head-on. With truth steady at her side and earth-anchored clarity, Anderson Penno masters the fine line between self-pity and self-glorification as she traces grief's path: the initial strike of near annihilating power, then its expansion to permeate all aspects of one's life before it begins to slowly, not lessen, but to shapeshift, transforming both itself and the writer. But Counting Bones is also a good story, a coming-of-age chronicle that will hold its readers as they marvel over the courage and resilience of an indefatigable, multi-gifted young woman.”
    — Sharon Butala, award winning author of Leaving Wisdom and Where I Live Now

    Counting Bones begins as a tale of a college romance rich with hiking, mountain climbing, skiing and the special sensation that comes from finding a soulmate for the first time but shifts into a complex tale of grief as a life-long visitor. The author loses her beloved to an avalanche on Mt. Baker in Washington just as she’s finishing college and starting medical school. Her memoir reads like a symphony—an “Ode to Grief” instead of joy, but just as nuanced and beautiful. “Ian and Ian’s death are like two different people,” she reflects, as the reader follows her through her complex reaction to the sudden trauma even as she faces the medical training required to handle trauma in others. If you loved Joan Didion’s Year of Magical Thinking, buy this book.”
    — Mary Collins, author of At the Broken Places: A Mother and Trans Son Pick Up the Pieces (Beacon Press)

    “Ellen Anderson Penno’s memoir is an anatomy of precision and procedural beauty. Counting Bones takes the reader on a sure and steady climb, unexpected descent into loss, and through an ill-timed academic crucible. Anderson Penno pairs the rhythm and language of rock climbing with the nomenclative framework of Gray’s Anatomy. In an introspective writing style that juxtaposes the creative with memoir Anderson Penno manages, in unexpected moments, to belay time, depart from the quantitative, and bring to light poetic concerns of the broken hearted.”
    — Darcy Tamayose, award winning author of Ezra’s Ghosts