6 YA Novels with Disabled and Chronically Ill CharactersAug 21, 2021 11:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Books can provide an entertaining escape from reality, even if just for a few chapters. Young adult (YA) novels are some of the most popular types of books out there. However, finding YA books with disabled characters can be a real challenge. Some disabilities are showcased more than others, and there are absolutely books that offer representation that does more harm than good.
These six YA novels feature a diverse group of disabled or chronically ill main characters to show that representation matters even in the book industry.
Full Disclosure by Camryn Garrett
Written by a young Black woman, Full Disclosure is about Simone Garcia-Hampton, who was born with HIV and who keeps her HIV a secret. She had her trust betrayed by a friend at a previous school about it and everyone treated her differently. While working on a musical production at her new school, she meets Miles, and the two begin dating, but then she starts receiving anonymous letters threatening to tell everyone her secret if she doesn’t stop dating Miles. This is a poignant and heartwarming young adult novel that focuses on sex positivity and diversity.
The author, Camryn Garrett, was born and raised in New York, and in 2019, she was named one of Teen Vogue’s 21 Under 21.
The Bite of the Mango by Mariatu Kamara
This moving autobiography never minimizes the brutality of the civil war that wracked Sierra Leone from 1991 to 2002. Mariatu Kamara’s childhood abruptly ended at age 12 when she was raped by a man her elders trusted, an event that was shortly followed by a horrific, murderous attack by rebels on her village. Though she tried to flee, she never made it to the neighboring town. Instead, she was captured and had her hands cut off. She escaped and survived, making her way to Freetown, hoping to find a way to freedom. The book is about how she made her way from such a tragic situation to living in Toronto and how it is she navigates her new life without her hands.
Love from A to Z by S.K Ali
Sajidah S.K. Ali is an Indian-Canadian author of children's books, best known for her Asian/Pacific American Award-winning debut young adult novel, Saints & Misfits. Love from A to Z is about Zayneb, who is the only Muslim in her school. When Zayneb is suspended for confronting her teacher, she heads to Qatar for an early spring break at her uncle’s home. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her. Then she meets Adam, who has just been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He’s keeping the diagnosis a secret from his father, who is grieving the death of his mother. Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals.
Two Girls Staring At The Ceiling by Lucy Frank
There are very few characters in both young adult novels and the fiction genere who have Crohn’s disease. This story follows two teen girls, Francesca and Shannon, both of whom live with Crohn’s disease, and how they share a hospital room, but there’s a curtain hanging between them. The novel is written in a way that reflects the parallel stories, with a line dividing the pages like the curtain dividing the room. It’s a book about friendship and finding comfort in someone else who is going through the same things you are. Lucy Frank is the author of eight young adult and middle-grade novels.
Pet by Akwaeke Emezi
Jam is a Black trans girl with selective mutism who lives in the utopian city of Lucille, where the angels vanquished all the monsters long ago, or so Jam and her best friend, Redemption, are taught in school. Then one day, a creature climbs out of a painting and tells Jam there’s a monster in her midst. She names the creature Pet, and the two must find the monster before it’s too late. This unique and heart-wrenching read shows how sometimes the monsters are the ones that appear to be the safest. Akwaeke Emezi is an artist and writer, and was born in Umuahia and raised in Aba, Nigeria. Emezi was featured on the cover of TIME Magazine as a Next Generation Leader in June 2021 for their debut memoir Dear Senthuran about life under military dictatorship in the ’90s.
When My Heart Joins the Thousand by A. J. Steiger
This young adult novel gives some much-needed representation of what’s it’s like to be a woman on the autism spectrum through its main character, Alvie. No longer living with her family, she meets Stanley who has a musculoskeletal disorder and uses a cane to avoid injuring his fragile bones. The two start to form a bond until Alvie realizes that being vulnerable isn’t necessarily easy due to her own past experiences. A. J. Steiger graduated from Columbia College in Chicago, where she majored in fiction writing. Mindwalker is her first book for young adults.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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