Born in Georgia, Paola was raised among the New Jersey Pine Barrens, which she later used as the setting for Body Toxic (and the haunt of the Jersey Devil), in 1 of the most environmentally contaminated counties in the United States. She currently resides in Washington with her husband and adopted son.
Her best-selling work is Body Toxic: An environmental memoir. The memoir merges her personal and familial sagas with historical accounts, politics, and environmentalism. Body Toxic depicts an American family in the midst of what the author perceives as the wreckage of the American dream.
Paola writes about how the poisoned landscape of her New Jersey childhood devastated her body, causing cardiac arrhythmia, seizures, severe allergies, and sterility. She recounts the story of the Radium Girls, details aspects of the frequent nuclear and industrial waste debacles in New Jersey, and relates these events to her family and neighbors.
Paola's memoir disputes attribution of her afflictions to genetic vulnerability, random chance, or recreational drug use. Vignettes depicting colossal man-made environmental disasters are woven into her story, accenting the recurrent medical catastrophes she endured, including endometriosis, rampant thyroid tumors, a quadruplet pregnancy (sans fertility drugs) that ended in miscarriage, numerous growths on her liver and ovarian cysts that necessarily had to be removed, all embedded in a time line repeatedly punctuated by manic-depression. Ironically, the latter condition was treated with psychotropic drugs, some of which are derived from the very same dye chemicals dumped, sometimes recklessly, into the environment of southern New Jersey.
In 2001, Body Toxic received recognition as a 'Notable Book' from the New York Times, and for making Amazon.com's list of top 10 memoirs for that year. An excerpt of Body Toxic was published as an essay called "Elizabeth" and later recognized as a 'Notable Essay' for 1998 by Best American Essays.
She has published several prize-winning collections of poems, including Bardo, a Brittingham Prize in Poetry winner.
- Petitioner. Seattle, WA : Owl Creek Press, .
- Glass. Princeton, NJ: Quarterly Review of Literature, 1995.
- Bardo. University of Wisconsin Press, 1998.
- The Lives of the Saints. University of Washington Press, 2002.
- Body Toxic: An environmental memoir. Washington, DC: Counterpoint, 2001. ISBN 1-58243-116-7
- A Mind Apart: Travels in a neurodiverse world. New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher / Penguin, 2005.
Bookreporter.aol.com - Body Toxic Chapter One (excerpt)
- Suzanne Paola Official website.
- Gelmans.com - 'Woman Looks Back At Her Toxic N.J. Youth', Candy J. Cooper (February 20, 2002)
NYTimes.com - 'Poison: The author recounts how she was shaped by a girlhood that was, quite literally, toxic', reviewed by Michael Pollan, New York Times (June 24, 2001)
- SpiritualityandPractice.com - Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir, reviewed by Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat
- TidePool.org - Body Toxic: An Environmental Memoir, reviewed by Christian Martin (2001)