Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Books Outside The Box - characters with physical disabilities

The annual United Nations' International Day of Persons with Disabilities is a time to focus on issues that affect people with disabilities worldwide. The theme is: “Break barriers, open doors: for an inclusive society for all.” More than a billion people, 15% of the world population, live with disabilities. This is the world’s largest and most disadvantaged group. And a perfect theme for the resurrected Books Outside The Box

Drowned citiesThe Drowned Cities features Mahlia, a heroine with only one hand. This book serves as a companion book, not a sequel, to Paolo Bacigalupi's debut YA novel, Ship Breaker. In this dystopian future, the US has been devastated by climate changes that lead to a flooded east coast and anarchy. Roving warlords fight for power over the remnants of the east coast. Chinese peacekeepers arrived on US soil and spent years trying to stop the violence. When they gave up and left, one left behind a daughter. 

Mahlia's hand was deliberately amputated by one warlord celebrating the departure of the hated peacekeepers. But she doesn't let the missing limb, or the missing father, plunge her into despair. She works assisting a local doctor in a small village and struggles to rescue Mouse, a young boy who is kidnapped by a gang and forced to become a soldier. 

This book covers more than just what a handicapped heroine can accomplish. It also deals with issues of prejudice and standing up for ones self, of being forced to be a child soldier and the sacrifices people sometimes have to make to survive.

pinned sharon g flake cover
Pinned, by Sharon G. Flake, published in 2012 by Scholastic Press, tackles the tough subjects of disability and stereotypes head-on. Autumn is a wrestler, the only female wrestler in her high school. She is in love with Adonis, the brilliant, hard-working, determined, and legless team manager. She has visions of a future where she sits in his lap as he wheels her into the prom. Unfortunately her low skills at reading and math threaten her position on the team. And the voices inside her head tell her to give up, she may be able to wrestle and takedown the big boys, but she will never be able to learn. But at least Autumn is sincere and speaks openly and honestly, admitting her faults and weaknesses. 

pinned - backAdonis may be in a wheelchair, but the star student has no patience with weakness. He views Autumn’s difficulties in school as a sign that she is weak, wasting her talents and abilities.  Adonis won’t be pitied. He is arrogant and never let his lack of legs keep him from standing tall—until the day bullies tossed him into the lake and left him to drown.

Now the boy who could do anything finds his self-confidence shattered.  He can't really believe that any girl really wants to date him.  He's always been confident about himself and can't see ever letting another person inside his innermost thoughts, not even the super strong wrestler who makes him cry out in his sleep.  This book gives readers two strong characters, both having to accept that they have faults, and both having to learn to overcome them.

shadow3Ender’s Shadow by Orson Scott Card, is a companion novel to Ender's game, telling roughly the same story, but told from the point of view of Bean, a boy who grows up on the mean streets of a dystopian future Rotterdam. He is small for his age, extremely small, but that is not his handicap. He uses his difference effectively against everyone except Achilles, a boy with a crippled leg and a bad attitude. Achilles (pronounced Asheel) is the villain of the book, a street bully who has the brains to take advantage of everything including his crippled leg, and the cruelty to kill anyone who sees him as helpless. He isn’t the hero, but he is a reminder that being handicapped does not automatically make one a saint, or a target of bullies.  He knows how to work the system, especially adults who feel sorry for him or make the mistake of seeing him as a handicapped saint, making him one of the most effective villains I've seen in a long time.

Cinder, written by Marissa Meyer and published by Feiwel & Friends in 2012 features a cyborg Cinderella in Beijing China…that is, New Beijing, (after all, this is the future.) Lihn Cinder is missing a foot. The teenaged cyborg has outgrown the model she wore as a child and her stepmother refuses to buy a bigger one. She is also a gifted mechanic, a talent that brings her to the attention of Crown Prince Kai, who sees her as a girl, not a machine. Cinder’s life becomes intertwined with Prince Kai’s but what can a cyborg who has no rights, is only barely considered human, and an artificial foot, do with a prince?

stolenGirl, Stolen written by April Henry, and published 2010 by Henry, Holt & Co. introduces readers to a blind Cheyenne Wilder. in this contemporary novel,  Cheyenne is a teen sick with pneumonia and left to sleep in the back of the car while her mother runs into the pharmacy to fill her prescription. Then the car is hijacked and readers are taken along in this quiet thriller with a sick, blind heroine and a young man who never intended to be a kidnapper. But now that he has, his father intends to make use out of having the daughter of a corporate executive in his power. 

Think about being kidnapped. And then imagine being kidnapped and being in the power of a man who hates everything your parents stand for when you are sick, and blind.

crazyCrazy Beautiful, written by Lauren Baratz-Longsted and published in 2009 by Houghton Mifflin, is a modern retelling of Beauty and the Beast featuring Lucius Wolfe and Aurora Belle. Lucius is a double amputee who blew his own arms off.  Lucius tells readers:
I don't blame my parents for what I became, and never have. It wasn't my parents' fault I wanted to blow something up. It wasn't my parents' fault I was so angry with the world. And why was I so angry? I suppose—and I know this is no excuse, but it is the reason—I was exhausted with being so different from everybody else. Sure, many, many people survive extended abuse of bullying and never snap. But some do snap. It is a thing, I think, worth thinking about.
Now he wears hooks to scare people and keep them away, and to remind himself of the monster inside.  But in spite of those hooks he is still a young man in pain.

If you have other books about teens with disabilities, please add them to the comments.  I would love to hear about them.

See other Books Outside the Box columns on TheHub by clicking here.

Return to Books outside the Box in January for YA books deal with mental illness.

No comments: