Disability Representation in Fiction
For National Disabilities Awareness Month, we are celebrating the achievements of those living with chronic illnesses and disabilities. Here are our top book recommendations that give a new perspective on ability and disability, highlighting the importance of disability representation in fiction.
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
The Shock of the Fall was British author Nathan Filer’s debut, exploring schizophrenia and the trials of living with mental illness through the eyes of Matthew after his brother, Simon, dies. Filer is a trained psychiatric nurse with a degree in mental health nursing, making his novel all the more impactful. Matthew’s complex battle with schizophrenia begins after Simon’s death, and the narrative jumps around from diary entries to letters all written for his brother. We see the confusion and panic schizophrenia induces in the individual, and the exponential decline in Matthew’s mental health as he becomes increasingly isolated. This is a deeply affecting book that continues to be praised for raising awareness of the realities of mental illness.
Wonder by R.J. Palacio
If you remember the terrifying years of childhood, you’ll appreciate August’s story in Wonder by R.J. Palacio. 10-year-old Auggie is going to school for the first time in his life and, in addition to navigating the world of education and making new friends, he has a severe facial deformity that stops strangers in their tracks. While August’s story is not an easy one to read, it is a rare story written with sensitivity and insight that deserves to be read. An up-beat, life-affirming narrative about growing up, this story gives readers an intimate portrayal of August’s fight for acceptance. Wonder is a novel that made me want to embrace life and the people in it, a book that is a must for everyone.
Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin
Pain is part of the human experience, often coupled with the happy ending of a cure. But the thing about chronic illness is that there isn’t necessarily a cure, it is a constant cycle that affects daily life. Please Read This Leaflet Carefully by Karen Havelin, published by Dead Ink Books, follows Laura Fjellstad as she details her life with endometriosis. The book is told in reverse, from 2016 to 1995, where we see Laura’s journey with her body and illness – meeting her younger, healthier selves and seeing how far she has come since. It is so important that these experiences are represented in fiction to encourage conversations about illness for people who can relate, those who are undiagnosed and those who don’t know anything at all.
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
An important aspect of representation is that disability doesn’t always have to be the whole focus of the plot. The fact that The Curious Incident is told from the perspective of “a mathematician with behavioural difficulties” allows the reader to understand the narrator’s disability in a different way. Haddon has cleverly crafted a murder mystery in which we are able to see things with a unique perspective. Vitally, the book doesn’t focus on Christopher’s disability, but rather how he is differently abled. It is a moving and often funny book with an incredible and vivid narrator that will stick with you long after reading.
Five Steps to Happy by Ella Dove
When Ella Dove went out for a run one morning her life changed irrevocably. Ella stumbled and fell, and the injury she sustained resulted in a below-knee amputation. We find Heidi, the main character in Five Steps to Happy, in the same life-altering position. We follow Heidi’s journey as she learns to navigate new challenges, realising that her life is far from over – even when it looks and feels so different to what she had planned. The strength in this story comes not only from Ella’s wonderful narrative and relatable characters, but also from the raw emotion produced by its basis on a true story. Described as “an uplifting novel,” Five Steps to Happy is a story of hope.
What Stars Are Made Of by Sarah Allen
Sarah Allen’s debut middle-grade novel follows Libby Monroe, a plucky 12-year-old protagonist born with Turner Syndrome. Libby is an aspiring scientist with a loving family, supportive friends and a determined mind. After learning that her beloved older sister Nonny is pregnant, she wants to help take care of the sister who has always cared for her. She works to craft the perfect essay about her hero Cecelia Payne for a contest, determined to win the prize money for her sister. A heartwarming story of family and friendship, What Stars Are Made Of illustrates how Libby’s compassion and tenacious spirit allows her to move the stars for her loved ones.