Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Diverse also means disabled

I love stories about underdogs and overcoming against all odds, and achieving with a handicap makes for an inspiring story. With all the talk lately about diversity in YA, I've been thrilled to see disabled included as a category of diverse, especially since one of my books includes a main character who has lost her sight.

Here are some excellent young adult books (and one middle grade) with main characters who are disabled.

Push Girl
She Is Not Invisible
Breaking Glass
The Fault in Our Stars
The Queen of Attolia
I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade
The Window

Otherbound, by Corrine Duyvis. Nolan longs for a life uninterrupted. Every time he blinks, he's yanked from his Arizona town into Amara's mind, a world away, which makes even simple things like hobbies and homework impossible - and results in an accident where he loses his lower leg. Talk about an unusual type of portal into another world! This book just released last week: see below for more details!

Push Girl, by Chelsie Hill and Jessica Love.  Another new release, Kara is having the perfect junior year until she became paralyzed in  a car accident. I haven't read this one yet, but will soon.

Dangerous, by Shannon Hale.  Maisie isn't going to let being born without  a hand stop her from her dream: becoming an astronaut. Thrilled to be accepted to astronaut bootcamp, her dream seems to be coming true, until everything starts going wrong and she becomes a reluctant superhero instead.

She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgewick. When her father goes missing, 16 year old Laureth and her 7 year old brother Benjamin travel on their own to New York City to find him. This wouldn't be so incredible journey if it weren't for the fact that Laureth was born blind. Seeing the world from her perspective of never even knowing sight is amazing!

The Window, by Jeanette Ingold. Mandy loses her sight and her mother in a car accident and she handles it with silent strength. Her independent, I-can-take-care-of-myself vulnerability comes through as a strong voice I quickly fell in love with.

For more books with blind characters, check out this Goodreads list: Awesome Blind Characters

Breaking Glass, by Lisa Amowitz. Jeremy loses his lower leg in an accident, and because he's a runner and track star, this devastates him... along with the mysterious disappearance of his friend and crush, Susannah. What I loved about this book is that Jeremy hits bottom first in despair, before slowly rising to face his alcoholism, and overcomes his grief and disability to solve the mystery.

The Fault in Our Stars, by John Green. If you haven't heard of this book or movie yet, most of the kids have disabilities as a result of cancer. They struggle with depression, anger, and doubt but this book is far from a pity party. Augustus will win your heart with his humor and outrageous metaphors.

I Rode A Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diana Lee Wilson. This story of a girl with a lame foot is especially striking because she lives in Mongolia during the time of Kublai Khan and Marco Polo. Her horse and her cat enable her to achieve an absolutely amazing journey.

The Queen of Attolia, by Megan Whalen Turner. Set in a world similar to Ancient Greece, Gen is at the top of his game as his Queen's celebrated thief - until he's caught, and his hand is lopped off for stealing. Can he regain his confidence... and steal the most difficult treasure possible... I can't even hint what that might be without spoiling this amazing story.

So, more about Otherbound - the most unusual portal-to-another-world story I've come across, bonus points for originality! So your classic portal story is someone in the real world steps through a portal of some sort into a fantasy world. In this book, the portal is another person, and when Nolan steps "through" he is stuck as that other person... and he can't NOT step through... every time he blinks he's seeing into her world. At first he's just a silent observer through Amara's eyes, and she doesn't realize he's there. But eventually he learns how to influence, even control Amara. So it's a fantastic set up for conflict in so many ways.

Amara's country sounds similar to an older version of the Netherlands, with some steampunk (maybe?) touches like pneumatic air trains. Amara's a servant, which basically means she's a slave - and all servants have their tongues cut out (so she's mute - disabled too - but marvelously expressive with her signing). She's a servant to a princess who is hiding from the usurper to her throne, who is searching for her to eliminate her to keep her from regaining the throne... and has placed her under a really, really, scary curse. The magic in this world is has powerful repercussions such as "backlash": different spells and curses can react to each other in unpredictable and very dangerous ways, so you want to avoid "mixed magic" at all costs:
Sometimes, mixed magic flared tenfold. A single bolt could destroy the whole street. Other times, spells canceled each other out.... 
Instances of backlash - water frothing, flames flickering, bugs spasming and plants wilting - must be warnings.... 
Thunderclouds met overhead. Magic backlash, she was sure of it.
In addition to the fascinating rules of magic, another thing I really liked about this book was the complicated friendship between Amara and Cilla, the princess she serves. Amara has to serve Cilla, even protect her life at risk to her own, but she's curiously loyal, and she's Cilla's only friend. I'm not sure if I've ever run across such a complicated relationship.

And then add Nolan and his unwanted, involuntary "eavesdropping" on Amara and you've got another whole other layer of complication... especially when he realizes how crucial his relationship is to the lives of Amara and Cilla. The book alternates between Nolan's perspective - his difficult home and school life which is so messed up by his frequent "seizures" (when he's in Amara's world) - and Amara's perspective, sometimes in control of herself and sometimes being controlled by Nolan.
Have him in her head for hours on hours or risk his being out of her reach when she needed him. Invade her mind or break her body. 
....He shouldn't hijack you like that," Cilla said. "But I like the way his face looks on yours. He looks more relaxed in your body than you do." 
Of the two main characters, I tended to look forward to scenes from Nolan's perspective a little more, partially because it was kind of fun to see a guy deal with being in a girl's head (!!!!!) and also because I couldn't get enough of his little sister, Patli (Pat). She was SO NEAT! She was a little sass but also compassionate, confused and freaked by her brother's "seizures" but also concerned and curious about him.  And she's full of attitude...
Pat's scoffs had as wide a range as Nolan's smiles. At the bottom rung was Seriously? followed by I'm really too cool for this but, whatever I'll play along. Somewhere at the top sat This is the most important thing in the world, but OMG I'll die if anyone knows.

Another thing I liked about the "real world" was Nolan and Pat's parents:
Nolan and Pat always spoke English together, but their parents stuck to Spanish around the house, or simple Nahuatl between Dad and Pat as practice. Dad saved English for his rare Talks, capital T. 

Reading this, I had to pause and google Nahuatl.  It's a language spoke by the Nahua people in central Mexico, and is informally known as Aztec. Which gave me all kinds of cool vibes, that not only was Nolan's family of Mexican background, but possibly Aztec descendants.

There was some neat world building in Amara's world, too. I loved the references to the Diggers,  unique creatures that inhabited the sand dunes, which are a big part of the setting in this land (I wish they had gotten a bigger role in the story). Other touches I loved were little geographic details, things like the great land of snow to the SOUTH; which to this Northern hemisphere oriented gal, made me pause and consider that Amara's country, for all its hints of Netherland, might actually be a Southern hemisphere sort of country. I also loved that the captain of the ship that Amara and Cilla escape on was a female captain, and loved this description given aboard the ship:
The rising sun threw pinkish rays over her face and tintned the air a gray that hovered between yellow and blue, painting the clouds colors Amara couldn't find names for.
And oh my goodness the last two pages were so poignant and beautifully unresolved, as Nolan writes his concluding thoughts in his journal.


  1. What a wonderful collection! Loved reading all these blurbs and will have to check these out.

  2. I'm glad to see more characters with disabilities too, especially since I used to teach special ed. Of those I've read recently, I thought May B's dyslexia (Caroline Starr Rose) was particularly well done.

  3. So true that diversity should include disabilities. I so need to read The Fault in Our Stars. And I loved The Queen of Attolia. I'll have to check out some of your other choices. And May B. and Wonder are great books with characters with disabilities too.

  4. Hi, Margo. Thanks for sharing about all of these books.

  5. Sounds like some great reads. Diversity should include so many things. Disability, as a varied scale, is actually fascinating in terms of making a great story. I can't believe I haven't read any of these. Time to make up for that.

    And I love hearing your perspective. Thanks for sharing!

  6. I recently read A Snicker Of Magic and it totally fits diversity as in having a disabled primary character.
    I've heard great things about Otherbound and your enthusiasm is quite contagious.



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