Precursor to a book review

For the first time on this blog, I am going to review a book that has not been published yet. I received an ARC (Advanced Reader Copy) a week ago and was so excited I nearly cried. Bear with me because this will be a little longer review than usual because of the particular content of the book.

My graduate thesis was written on the portrayal of disabilities in modern children's literature. During my study I read dozens of middle grade and young adult books featuring one major character with some form of disability ranging from ADHD to Asperger's Syndrome to Cerebral Palsy. During my research I found that there was little information on disabilities in literature, and even less about what makes a good/great book with disability. Therefore, I made my own guidelines about what a book needs to have in order that the disabled are portrayed in a positive, unstereotypical, and accurate light. As basically as possible:

1. Stereotypes and Labels must be removed. Disabled characters are not stock characters like cheerleaders or the geek. They should not be used as such. Using labels such as developmentally delayed, handicapped, special needs, etc. are rarely necessary and if used, should be used as minimally as possible.
2. The character needs to speak for themselves. Even if the character is unable to speak, or the story is told from a non-disabled characters viewpoint, we should hear the disabled characters voice somehow.
3. The interactions between non-disabled and disabled characters should be realistic. Some people are nice, some people are mean, some will make fun of a child in a wheelchair, and some will be friends with them. Be accurate.
4. The story should be about more than a disability. If you removed the disability from the story, you will be missing an important part, but the plot of the story would not disappear completely.
5. All characters should be well-rounded with interests, thoughts, ideas, and fascinating perspectives. The disabled character is no different. They should have motivation, desires, wants, needs, and vision.

I think it is important to have these guidelines out there so you (the reader) understands where I am coming from when I review this book.


Jason Kurtz said...

Venus... What were some of the books you looked used in your thesis? Stuck in Neutral (Trueman)? Invisible (Hautman)? Stoner & Spaz (Koertge)? Would love to see a mini-list...

Unknown said...

Absolutely True Diary of a Part- time Indian by Sherman Alexie, Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko, Stoner & Spaz by Ron Koertge, Rules by Cynthia Lord, Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco Stork, and Tru Confessions by Janet Tashjian.

There were also minor references to Heidi, The Secret Garden and I also researched and read but didn't use Freak the Mighty, Stuck in Neutral, Joey Pigza Swallows a Key, A Wizard Alone, One-handed Catch, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night, Trigger, Petey, The One Where the Kid Nearly Jumps to His Death and Lands in California, Things Not Seen, Bluish, Tangerine, So B. It, Granny Torreli Makes Soup, Picking Up the Pieces, The Weirdo

and a few others I can't remember but read. Despite this list, I can tell you that books featuring a disabled character make up 1% of books published or in print. And based on my guidelines, had issue with more than a few of these. My favorite of the secondary books was A Wizard Alone. Loved it.

Jason Kurtz said...

Thanks Venus... Now I know where to find a good list...