Disability and Fiction
This is probably a Part 1 of a longer series.
A book really struck me, though it wasn't aimed at me. The Title: Sick Kids In Love. The Subtitle: “They Don't Die in This One”. I had many feelings after I finished the book, which I'll get to. But the biggest was “I want to read more like this”
It's clear that it's unique to its genre, because if you pop it into NoveList, at least at my library, you get: The Fault in Our Stars and nearly everything else in the read-alike list is based off “you must want something that reads like The Fault in Our Stars.
Where Sick Kids In Love is a fluffy, OwnVoices romp, The Fault In Our Stars is depressing and not OwnVoices. I've heard it called “voyeuristic” though I'm not entirely sure I agree with that.
So I went looking on my own, for “Disabled”, which NoveList seems to think is a bad word. Seriously, the keyword you are looking for is “Ability Diverse” And it will show you actually good stuff, and a whole lot of Inspiration Porn. I asked the Fediverse what they thought, because while I was grossed out by the term, maybe it was just me? Spoiler: It wasn't just me, the nicest thing anyone had to say was that it was probably by someone well-meaning.
So I had to do my own research, because recommended tool NoveList was just gonna show me bullshit.
Unfortunately the Disability In Kid Lit site has not updated since 2018, so I was basically on my own to find anything.
I read two books about D/deaf people. These were apparently not OwnVoices according to the author bios. That said, they were good books, and I did learn some stuff, like for example, not all D/deaf people want to be called “Disabled”.
For the sake of this post, I am considering anything that requires accommodation that isn't necessarily given to be a disability, and requires you to change how you interact with the world (and how the world reacts to you). Preferably there is also a degree to which you yourself recognize yourself as disabled. This means simply wearing glasses does not count, because the world easily and dare I say “willingly” accommodates for it, but it would count if I were reading some historical fiction that does not. Mental Illness counts, I myself have experienced plenty of discrimination based on this. Neurodiversity counts because of unwillingness to accommodate.
Now one more disclaimer: As I've talked about before, I have memory problems due to the Electro-Convulsive Therapy I undergo once or twice a month. This can mess with my memory of what I've read, so if a description seems especially sparse, consider that I probably read it several months ago and my memory discarded it.
Eliza And Her Monsters
I don't think it's ever explicitly discussed if Eliza has a mental illness, but she seems to have serious social anxiety. At school, she keeps to herself, puts her head down and draws, but no one but her family knows she draws the most popular webcomic of the moment. That's right she draws “Kill Six Billion Demons”– no I'm joking, she draws a comic called “Monstrous Sea”. Then she meets a Big Name Fan who assumes she's just another fan. There's also a subplot about a book series that never got finished and the author has become a recluse.
A Young Adult OwnVoices anthology about various disabilities. I recommend it to anyone who reads this post.
This is the only piece of fantasy I plan to include on this list. It's got a D/deaf witch, and a nonbinary werewolf, and it's just fantastic.
Darius the Great is Not Okay
This has a very Aristotle and Dante feel, minus the romance. Darius is a queer Persian teenager with depression. He has to go to Iran because his grandfather has a brain tumor, and along the way he deals with a lot of “you just need to try harder” any time his medication comes up. He also gets a lot of shit for being fat (because of his medication). Read this book. A Sequel just came out and I have not read it.
Song for a Whale
Basically a D/deaf girl in a hearing school. She has accommodations, but they only go so far. She becomes attached to Blue 52, a fictionalized version of the 55 Hertz whale, and the book becomes about her quest to play something the whale can understand to it.
The Silence Between Us
A D/deaf girl who was hearing as a child, and lost it from meningitis transfers to a mostly Hearing school. She has accommodations. She's not “Anti-social” but she clearly has her defenses up when anyone tries to be nice to her. She swore she would never date a Hearing boy, but falls in love with one. Then there's a lot about Cochlear Implants.
Body Talk: 37 voices explore our radical anatomy
This one is not exactly a book about disabilities. I don't mean that in a cheesy way, I mean, while some stories are about debilitating conditions, some stories are about being considered fat, or hair that you can't get rid of. I recommend it though, because it has a section on what “normal” menstruation should look like. In my opinion we as a society are so disgusted by menstruation that we barely touch on it, and make people who menstruate feel ashamed of themselves, and possibly not pursue a diagnosis of PCOS because they don't understand how things are supposed to be “Down there”.
Calvin (by Martine Leavitt)
I hesitate to mention this one on here, because while I did enjoy it, I have no idea if it's a remotely accurate depiction of schizophrenia. That aside, it's really interesting, it's a first-person view while written somewhat script-like.
Sick Kids in Love
Okay so you have two teens. One with Rheumatoid Arthritis (a condition that makes her life hard, but will not kill her) and one with Gauche disease, which could kill him. This one I'm giving a lot of attention because it seems written in response to The Fault In Our Stars and I presume other “Sick Kid” books. It deals with doctor gaslighting, disability as an identity, invisible versus visible disability, romance, fatphobia in doctors, and other bullshit from able-bodied people.
But what about me let's talk about the author of this post!
This is where we get to talking about me oh boy! I have had migraines since I was young, and even got a traumatic MRI, where my mom wouldn't let me bring my own music because I would embarrass her with my weeaboo tastes. So I had to listen to Harry Chapin, which I couldn't even hear over the machine. Anyway nothing was wrong with my brain so it HAD to be stress. I didn't even know what a migraine was, because I made the mistake of asking a nurse (who I presume suffered from them) who snapped at me that if I had them, I'd know. Spoiler: I have migraines, and did not know until I was an adult. I had a doctor that understood me decently (though she was always on me to lose weight) and she retired. The clinic only had male doctors left, who didn't want to see my numerous migraine records, wouldn't refill my prescription of Topamax, and told me “it's probably a tension headache, just take Tylenol”. To which I should have said he should stuff the Tylenol up his ass, but of course I didn't.
It's the same as my Autism, something I didn't cover in this write-up (to be frank, it's getting kind of long and I'm hoping to do a “Part 2” at some point), which didn't get diagnosed until I was 19 (as Aspergers). I got diagnosed with all sorts of things, but despite my blatantly autistic ass, no one could diagnose me as autistic. I even had a great moment on some college break where my childhood therapist tried to convince me I wasn't autistic by going through the DSM-IV with her. It instead convinced her. I did not get an apology, despite the fact I probably could have gotten accommodations in school if she had recognized autism / aspergers outside of cis white boys.
After I moved to Nebraska, I got invited to join an Autism group, and had to sign some release forms (I think they were for consent to study us in retrospect). It very much pretended to be about support, while offering no support, and getting me a stalker, who they did not intervene with despite my requests of “He's texting me at all hours, please tell him to stop”. Zero stars. There was this great moment where they showed us an Autism Speaks ad comparing autism to having cancer or being in a horrible car accident. And then they asked us if there was a pill we could take if we would stop being autistic. Well after showing me how much society hates me, I said yes, though I would certainly not take it now.
My disability court case (don't worry, I won, sort of), was a crock of shit. They had demanded my grades from the local university and community college, and would literally inform me “You got an A in this class. It sounds hard. How can you be disabled”. The A I got, by the way, was when I was taking a single class. The judge did not mention (though my lawyer did) that I had a mental breakdown that led to voluntary commitment and ECTs like a semester or two later.
There's still shit like that today. My migraines are real, but because of the “functioning” scale, people love to deny me things I should have. You're either low-functioning and clearly can't be trusted to speak to the experiences of the autistic community, or you're high-functioning and other than denial of services, can't be trusted to speak to the experiences of the autistic community. Only I, tangentially-related-stranger-who-isn't-autistic, can!
So is it any surprise that despite not having Rheumatoid Arthritis or Gauche disease, Sick Kids in Love was a book I needed? It was a book that told me it was okay to be disabled. Society won't tell you that. A semi-famous fiction writer professor I had told us not to write disabled protagonists because their disability would interfere resolving the conflict in the story (I guess in a bad way). The book told me doctors were fallible, and I really needed to hear that.
While I think you should give everything on my list attention, at a minimum, check out Sick Kids in Love, especially if you're disabled.