There are few things that make me feel as warm and fuzzy inside as good disability representation in YA books. Unfortunately, it’s still really hard for disabled authors to tell their own stories (AKA #OwnVoices, which is defined below). Many times, disabled authors are passed over for abled authors writing disability in order to make the abled audience feel more comfortable. All of the books on this list are authentic experiences of disability straight from the horse’s mouth. Disabled people are more than ready for representation, and taking the time to support these books is one way you can help show publishers how much it’s needed!
What is #OwnVoices?
A work is considered #OwnVoices when the person creating that piece of media—for our purposes, an author of a book—shares a marginalization with their protagonist. For example, I’m autistic. So if I write a book with an autistic protagonist, that’s #OwnVoices! The hashtag was created by author Corinne Duyvis (who’s on this list!) in 2015. For more information and a Q&A, check out Corinne’s blog post.
Special thanks to authors Lillie Lainoff and Melissa See for their help with this article! You’ll be able to read more about Lillie’s #OwnVoices debut below. She also created the facebook group Disabled Kidlit Writers, a place for disabled writers to find community, get advice, and share successes. Melissa doesn’t have a book coming out just yet, but keep your eyes peeled for her beautiful #OwnVoices YA contemporary romance You, Me, And Our Heartstrings about a violinist with cerebral palsy and a cellist with anxiety dealing with the aftermath of becoming inspiration porn and their budding romance, which she’s currently querying.
One last note before you get started. You’ll notice that the majority of the books on this list are by white authors. While white disabled authors do face significant barriers to publication, they enjoy the privileges that come with whiteness. The barriers faced by white disabled authors are multiplied many times for disabled authors of color, and the disparity in representation is definitely reflected on this list. Please take the time to support the amazing authors of color on this list. In addition, though it’s not YA, I’d love to recommend you check out The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown, a Black disability rights advocate and the creator of #DisabledAndCute. Use your money and your voice to show publishing that these stories matter to everyone, and there’s not excuse for not amplifying the voices of disabled authors of color.
#OwnVoices YA About Disability
Even If We Break by Marieke Nijkamp
September 15, 2020
Five friends go to a cabin for a weekend that will prove deadly. Four of them have dark secrets. Two of them won’t survive the weekend, but none of them are really safe.
Finding Balance by Kati Gardner
September 29, 2020
Jase had acute lymphocytic leukemia when he was 3, but now it only crosses his mind twice a year. One time at his annual oncologist appointment, and a second time during Camp Chemo in the summer. No one he knows now is aware of his past, especially not his friends at school. But Mari was never able to hide her cancer survivorship, and uses her bright pink forearm clip crutches every day. She loves camp, partially because of her crush on Jase, and also because she doesn’t have to explain her amputation to anyone. But when Mari transfers to Jase’s school, he has to choose between blowing his cover and blowing his chance at love.
The Bone Houses by Emily Lloyd-Jones
Ryn cares about two only things: her family and her family’s graveyard. And since the death of her parents, both have been in trouble. Ryn and her siblings have been able to survive by working as gravediggers in a harsh, remote village called Colbren where the dead don’t always stay dead. The undead are known as “bone houses,” and they’re allegedly a result of a curse. Then Ellis, an apprentice mapmaker with chronic pain, arrives in town and the bone houses become increasingly violent. Ellis and Ryn must journey into the mountains to break the curse.
For a Muse of Fire by Heidi Heilig
Jetta comes from a talented family of shadow puppet performers, and she’s continuing that legacy. But Jetta has a secret: she can bind the souls of the dead to her puppets. This practice has been forbidden since the colonial army conquered her country, so Jetta must keep her abilities a secret. Then her powers earn her and her family a place on the royal ship. The Mad King is rumored to have a spring that can cure what plagues you, and Jetta is still seeking treatment for her bipolar disorder. But as rebellion infects the ship and Jetta is drawn in by a young smuggler, she’ll have to face truths that will put everything she knows and loves in danger.
Content Warnings: mental illness (bipolar), blood use in magic, gun violence, war, colonialism, racism, descriptions of dead bodies, mention of reproductive coercion, mentions of torture, mention of suicide
Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens Edited by Marieke Nijkamp
This anthology contains 13 stories exploring disability with disabled characters, written by disabled authors. These stories span the past, present, and future as well as a wide range of genres. The contributing authors include: Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell.
Peta Lyre’s Rating Normal by Anna Whateley
At 16, autistic Peta Lyre is used to following society’s expectations for how “normal” people behave. But when she falls in love with the new girl on a school ski trip, all of her carefully crafted routines start to crack under the pressure. When things shatter, Peta will decide what rules she’s willing to break to have the extraordinary life she wants.
Cursed by Karol Ruth Silverstein
Ricky’s parents are divorcing, her older sister is leaving for college, and, on top of all of that, she’s just been diagnosed with a chronic illness. She spends her days cursing at anyone possible, cutting class—which has become her own personal hell—thinking about her dreamy crush, Julio, and keeping the truth about how bad things have gotten from her parents. But it’s a lot to balance, and now she’s one suspension away from repeating 9th grade. She’ll do anything to move to 10th grade on time, so she begrudgingly lets her classmate, Oliver, lure her out of her prickly shell. Maybe asking for help isn’t the end of the world.
The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas
Grace is autistic. She’s got a horse and a best friend who gets her, and that’s really all she needs. But then Grace kisses the cutest boy in school, throwing everything off balance. And now her home life is changing too, and Grace is struggling to make sense of her new world. When everything starts to fall apart, will Grace be able to fix it on her own?
To Stand In The Light by Ennis Rook Bashe
The half-demon Shadow is a member of one of New York’s famous superhero teams. Their traumatic past has left scars—scars they spend as much energy on masking as they expend on kicking villain butt. When they’re stranded on a distant planet, they meet Bean, a punky super heroine. While her personality is everything that Shadow needs, Bean’s talents put her in danger. As the two get closer, Shadow has to choose: keep their secrets hidden, or stay with their soulmate.
Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde
Charlie, Taylor, and Jamie, three best friends, head to SupaCon. Charlie is promoting her first movie and attempting to win her dream girl, while Taylor is navigating her more-than-a-friend feelings for Jamie and an autistic brain that really isn’t keen on change. This adorably queer, autistic as heck contemporary YA will warm the heart of anyone who’s ever called fandom home.
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
On January 29, 2035, a comet will crash down on Earth and cause massive destruction. To survive the impact, Denise, her mother, and her sister Iris have been assigned to a temporary shelter. But when the time comes, Iris is missing. Denise and her mother manage to find something better than temporary shelter—a ship fleeing Earth to colonize new worlds. When Denise discovers everyone on the ship has been chosen because of their usefulness, she’s scared. Will an autistic girl like her be allowed to stay?
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais
When Deaf teen Maya moves across the country, she has to attend a hearing school for the first time, which is already pretty hard. Add onto that the adjustment to hearing culture and Maya is frustrated—and also surprised when a few of her classmates, including a boy named Beau, learn ASL. As Maya looks towards her future, she zeros in on her pursuits. Nothing will distract her, not even an unexpected romance.
Run by Kody Keplinger
Bo has a bad reputation, a mom with an alcohol problem, and a deadbeat dad. The whole town is wary of her family, but Bo doesn’t care what they think. Meanwhile Agnes doesn’t break her overbearing parents’ rules, doesn’t date, doesn’t anything. Because her parents make rules to protect their legally blind daughter—though Agnes isn’t sure from what. Despite their disparate backgrounds, the girls become best friends. And when Bo shows up at midnight with police on her tail and an itch to escape, Agnes takes off with her. But running away isn’t easy. They have to get a car, find Bo’s dad, evade the cops, and confront the ugly secrets that just keep chasing them.
Upcoming #OwnVoices YA About Disability
These books don’t have release dates or covers yet, but you should definitely have them on your radar!
One For All by Lillie Lainoff
Tania, a girl with Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome (or POTS), trains as a Musketeer, finding sisterhood and friendship. But she also finds secrets, ones that could help her save France—and maybe even solve the mystery of her father’s murder.
The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath
A trio of queer teenagers decide to buck the expectations of their rural Scandinavian village by leaving their families, living alone, and entering the region’s annual winter horse race—challenging the town’s patriarch in the process.
Untitled Mermaid Book by Natalia Sylvester
This currently untitled story centers a Latinx immigrant teen from central Florida who lives with hip dysplasia and has undergone countless surgeries. She dives deep into first love and and her dream of becoming a performer at a mermaid attraction.
So there you go, a whole bouquet of YA books about disability. Now what are you doing still reading this little wrap-up paragraph? Pick a book from this list and get to reading!