Buy Borrow Bypass: YA Novels Portraying Physical Disability

Millions of teens live with some type of physical disability, yet these readers rarely see themselves represented in books. Even more rare are books that recognize the complex human beings these teens are, rather than treat them as outsiders or one-dimensional characters defined only by their disabilities. Here are just a few to consider:

 We Were Liars by E. Lockhart

Something happened to Cadence Sinclair two summers ago on her family’s private island near Martha’s Vineyard that has caused her severe memory loss and frequent migraines. Cadence returns to the island for the summer with her mother to try and reconnect with her family and remember what happened. This well-crafted story with an element of mystery and a shocking twist/reveal portrays Cadence’s migraines in a very realistic way without making them the focus of the story. Lockhart’s descriptions of the pain of migraine is the most accurate I’ve ever read in fiction, and she manages to convey this powerfully without dwelling on it.

Verdict: Borrow, to see if you love or hate the reveal, and if it’s love, then Buy.

Blindsided by Priscilla Cummings

Natalie has been gradually losing her sight for several years. At 14, she can still see, but her parents send her to a school for the blind to prepare her for life with total vision loss. Natalie’s blindness is the focus of the story here, but she still faces many of the same issues as any girl her age. Cummings does a masterful job of presenting the physical and emotional journey of disability while showing that Natalie is a regular teenager who just happens to be blind. If there is a formula for a perfectly balanced and respectful portrayal of teens with disability, it was derived from this book.

Verdict: Buy

 Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon

I really wanted to love this book. And I did love it, through about 50 percent of it. The writing is beautiful. Yoon does a superb job of portraying the isolation, fear, and hope that cycle within those with chronic illness. At about the halfway point, however, my limits of disbelief began to be stretched too thin. Around 80% of the way through, the plot takes a twist that throws the story on its ear, reducing it to ableism (“happiness can only be found without disability”) and cliche (“finding a boyfriend solves everything”). Yoon is a terrific writer and this book has some real strengths, but if you are looking for a realistic, meaningful, respectful portrayal of physical disability, this is not that book.

Verdict: Bypass

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