Thursday, January 11, 2024

Disabilities in Middle Grade and YA Fiction: A Reading Round-Up

Tuesday I reviewed The Maid and The Mystery Guest by Nita Prose and said I'd share some more books I've read that have characters with disabilities. I started writing a long list so I decided to break it down - today's list includes middle grade and YA books. (Links go to a review post on my blog if there is one. Otherwise, they go to Goodreads.)

This list is NOT exhaustive! Please leave comments if you have other books for me to check out because I'd love to read more!

Are You Seeing Me? by Darren Groth

Books are often seen as a respite from everyday life and road trip books can be an even greater escape. They let you travel without having to go through airport security or get stuck in a strange city’s traffic. Darren Groth’s Are You Seeing Me? takes readers from an Australian airport to several stops in Canada and the United States, journeying alongside nineteen-year-old Justine and her twin brother, Perry.

The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley

Ada was born with a clubfoot, and her mother is ashamed of it. Because of that, Ada has never been out of the house, never learned anything, even though she is... or at least THINKS she is, 10 years old. Her little brother Jamie, on the other hand, is their mother’s favorite, and can play outside and attend school. As the war gets closer to London, plans are made for Jamie to be sent to the country to stay safe. Ada sneaks away with Jamie, and they get on a train with the other children from London. People who live in the country will take in children until World War II is over, but what if no one wants Ada and Jamie? This was a very engrossing book, and I don’t usually enjoy historical fiction. The ending of this book is one of the most satisfying I’ve read in a long time, with a perfect last line. Highly recommended!

10 Things I Can See From Here by Carrie Mac

Maeve deals with extreme anxiety, and it doesn't help that her mom is traveling to Haiti and sending Maeve to live with her father for six months. Her father who is a recovering alcoholic, and whose wife is seven months pregnant and planning a home birth - Maeve can't even begin to list all of the possible problems with that situation! Maeve's life seems to be spiraling out of control little by little, getting derailed by things that might not necessarily throw anyone else off track. 

Lila and Hadley by Kody Keplinger

This is a great book about family struggles, coming out of your shell, and includes realistic portrayal of disabilities you don’t often see addressed in fiction. It’s an #ownvoices book, and you need to read it. When Lila, a hard-to-reach dog begins interacting with Hadley, she lets herself be convinced to foster and train the dog for the summer. She seems a lot of similarities between herself and the stubborn dog, but agrees to make an effort of Lila does. That includes acknowledging her declining vision and taking mobility classes, as well as putting herself out there to make friends.

The Unlikely Hero of Room 13B by Teresa Toten.

Adam has OCD to the extent that he goes to group therapy. The other teens in the group have trouble opening up and coping, so they all have superhero alteregos to use during the sessions. When Robyn joins the group, Adam is smitten. He’s determined to get better for her, to stop lying, to stop his compulsions, and to start doing the work assigned in therapy. His mother, however, has her own issues that keep Adam’s anxiety high. I’ve never known much about OCD so it was enlightening to read about teens suffering from it, and the different things they do, as well as the different ways to cope. This book was incredibly suspenseful, with Adam's anxiety rising throughout the story, coupled with the mystery of what his mother is going through.

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan

Hank hates the book his teacher is reading to the class. It's really emotional and sad and Hank can't handle it. So he steals the book and sets it on fire in the boys' bathroom. He gets in trouble, of course, but also captures the attention of his classmate, Maisie. Maisie sees strength in Hank, and sees that he's willing to stand up for what he believes in. So she introduces him to Booler, the sweet pit bull next door who is always tied to a tree. Maisie wants Hank to help her free Booler, and as he gets swept up in her plan, Hank learns a lot about himself and friendship.

My Life in the Fish Tank by Barbara Dee.

Zinny is used to her home life being pretty wild since she has three siblings, but when her older brother, Gabriel, is in a car accident, things at home completely change. Gabriel is admitted to a hospital to get his bipolar disorder under control, and Zinny feels horrible that she told an adult about Gabriel's strange behaviors. But now her parents don't want Zinny to tell anyone about Gabriel, so Zinny doesn't know what to talk to her friends about. They keep talking about boys they have crushes on, but Zinny isn't interested in that. She loves science, so she starts spending her lunch period in the science lab with Ms. Molina, her favorite teacher. Zinny starts using science as her outlet, to help her stay as calm as she possibly can, considering both her family life AND social life are in shambles. Zinny just wants Gabriel to come home, for her parents to understand, and to make it into the summer science camp her teacher nominates her for; but all of that seems like too big of a miracle.

El Deafo by Cece Bell.

A graphic memoir by Cece Bell. In really cute, bright illustrations, she tells the story of how she had to get hearing aids at a young age, and how she coped with being different from everyone else. I love graphic memoirs and Bell has a great style.

Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork.

Marcelo is a teenage boy with Asperger’s syndrome. He attends a private school for students with disabilities, and has earned a summer job there, working with the therapy ponies. His dad is a lawyer who doesn’t understand Marcelo’s mind, and seems embarrassed by his son’s “impairment”. He wants Marcelo to attend the public high school for his senior year, so he makes Marcelo a wager: if Marcelo works in his father’s law firm for the summer, he can decide to stay at his private school, or move on to the more challenging public high school. Marcelo really wanted to work with the ponies because that’s his dream job, but he agrees to his father’s stipulations and tackles a summer in “the real world.” I liked that this book was unsentimental, yet still managed to be poignant and emotional in a few select scenes. Overall, I got a dark, somewhat sad feeling from the book, but it wasn’t depressing. It was very compelling to keep reading, even though there wasn’t a lot of suspense or action.

Girls like Us by Gail Giles.

An amazing and emotional story about two teen girls with disabilities who graduate from high school and become roommates. They live with an old lady on the condition that they help her around the house. This book is so real and honest, and so moving. It was so good that I already want to re-read it; I think it'll stay on my list of all-time favorites.

Out of My Mind by Sharon M. Draper.

Everyone who raves about R.J. Palacio's Wonder should read this book. Melody has cerebral palsy, which means she can't walk, can't even move her limbs much at all, and can't speak. But her limitations are purely physical. Melody has enjoyed reading and learning since she was read to as a baby, and now, at eleven, she is very intelligent. She knows the definitions of countless words, and knows a lot of trivia - she just can't prove it to anyone. The communication board her parents made is very limited, so Melody has to try and communicate through blinks, nods, and the occasional tantrum. When she starts fifth grade, her special class starts attending inclusion classes, which opens Melody's world up and leads to new opportunities. You'd think a book about a fifth grader would be low stakes, but there was some excellent suspense in this story! Melody was so well-written that I wanted to be her friend. I work with adults with disabilities, and this book really opened my eyes to what the individuals with CP are going through every day. It's an amazing book for everyone to read, and I'm going to be recommending it to everyone I meet.

Good Kings Bad Kings by Susan Nussbaum.

Another book with characters who have disabilities. The story is told from different points of view of teens living in the institution, as well as employees who work there. It's an interesting story, but due to the institutional setting, it's especially effective as a way to bring about change.

Wonder by R.J. Palacio.

Wonder is one of those books I heard so much about - people loved it, the beautifully simplistic cover was posted everywhere around the Internet, libraries, bookstores. I knew I wanted to read it, even though I didn't actually know what it was about. So I started with the first page and was absolutely drawn in. August Pullman got a bad mix of genes from his parents, which resulted in a cleft jaw, ears that weren't fully formed, drooping eyes, and more. He had been homeschooled by his mother, but once he turned ten, she thought it was time for him to start "real" school. The book deals with Auggie's fifth grade year, all the lessons he and his family learns, and all the people he encounters. Auggie is the main narrator, but many chapters are narrated by his old sister, Via, her boyfriend, and August's friends at school. I thought the book was great because it was so interesting, and after a time, you forgot what August looked like, just as those who knew him did, until someone new came into the scene with their reactions. It seemed very honest in the way it addressed how the public in general reacts to people who are different from them. Honest without a hint of judgement, just acknowledging that most people initially react to such a thing, then hitting home the point that all the world needs is kindness. Or, to be more specific, a little more kindness than is necessary. I especially loved August's sense of humor about himself, and Mr. Browne's monthly precepts - it makes me want to be an English teacher, just to use his idea!

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