From Skallagrigg to Wonder via Just Because, diverse disability books

There was a great twitter chat tonight on the #SupportWNDB tags, focussing on disability representation in fiction. It got me thinking of the books I could bring to mind featuring disability or illness.

An old favourite is the Skallagrigg. Unites Arthur, a little boy abandoned many years ago in a grim hospital in northern England, with Esther, a radiantly intelligent young girl who is suffering from cerebral palsy, and with Daniel, an American computer-games genius I think this possibly does fall prey to the superpower compensatory principle, in which a disabled character has to have a balancing super attribute (radiantly intelligent v in wheelchair) but it’s one of the phew I can bring to mind which features multiple disabled characters, and there are no miracle cures. It’s a satisfying story, but not what you’d call a happy ending really. It’s stayed with me for years, so pretty powerful.

A series that cropped up in the chat is the Vorkosigan saga (amazon). Unusual in that they are SF featuring a character with a physical disability (series starts before his birth and is worth reading from the beginning), and while this situation changes throughout the series, there aren’t any easy miracle cures, despite the futuristic nature of the books. I have often highly recommended Lois McMaster Bujold books, and they always provide lots to think about, as well as being great ripping yarns – adventure stories that rocket along.

just because rebecca elliott
Buy at Amazon

Picture books – I love Just Because, and not only because we have a cherished signed version sitting on my cherished books shelf. This is a lovely story about siblings Toby and Clemmie, and what Toby thinks about his sister’s very special chair. It’s level headed and direct, in the way many children are, and for adults, knowing that these are the author’s own children might make it that little bit more special too.

In contemporary YA, Wonder is a book that is often mentioned. Born with a severe facial deformity, Augie has been homeschooled to protect him, but now his parents have decided it’s time for him to try school and getting along with other children. It’s heart warming, and well worth reading the Julian Chapter (review) too. (And keep an eye on blog, I’ve a Wonder related giveaway coming very soon.)

Invisible disabilities are sometimes more difficult to feature. Autism hit the headlines with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time (Amazon) which went down well with Small, but grates slightly for me – but then again I’m not a teenage autistic boy, so who am I to say whether it is realistic or not? It is, after all, meant to be fiction, and not all fiction can speak to all people.

By contrast, Whisper by Chrissie Keighery(amazon) felt painfully close to the mark. I’m half deaf – I should wear a hearing aid but I gave up when Big was born, as artifically enhanced baby screaming was just too much to cope with. (I really should go and get tested for a digital aid, I understand they are a lot better at only amplifying the speech sounds, and not the background as well.) Anyway, this means that total hearing loss feels like a very plausible thing for me, and it’s an utterly terrifying idea, so this novel about a girl dealing with precisely that hit close to home. Reviewed by Alison here.

Mockingbird(Amazon) is a complicated book, in which the protagonist’s sibling died in a school shooting. She has Asperger’s and is struggling to process the death of someone close to her. Reviewed back in 2012 and I can’t actually remember what I said! Might go back and look. The review was long before my own Asperger’s diagnosis.

One last one crept into my mind as I was wrapping up. Child of Silence is the first in a series of books featuring a Child Abuse investigator called Bo Bradley who has bipolar disorder. Again, this is something I have no personal experience of, but I remember quite clearly the lyrical descriptions in this book of sliding in and out of a shared reality, and they’ve stayed with me. Probably enhanced by the fact that the child in question is deaf (not blowing too much of the story there I hope) which gave me a connection with the story too.

So there you have it. A completely non comprehensive and very subjective list of books that seem to me to be diverse, but with a disability focus. What have I missed that absolutely should be featured? Let me know.

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