January’s prompt in the 2021 reading challenge centres around characters with disabilities. I did quite a bit of research into this topic because it’s not something I know too much about and I wanted this prompt to be as inclusive as possible. I’m now more educated but still learning, so please let me know if there is anything I have missed or if anything could be interpreted as insulting that I need to change. What’s important is raising awareness, educating ourselves and others, and expanding our reading.
People with an intellectual disability may have difficulty communicating, learning, and retaining information. Examples include:
- Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)
- Developmental delay
- Down syndrome
A physical disability may affect someone’s physical capacity and/or mobility. Examples include:
- Acquired brain injury
- Cerebral palsy
- Cystic fibrosis
- Multiple sclerosis (MS)
- Muscular dystrophy
- Spina bifida
- Spinal cord injury (SCI)
- Tourette syndrome
Mental illness can affect a person’s emotional state, their behaviours, and how they think/feel. Examples include:
- Bipolar disorder
- Eating disorders (body dysmorphic disorder, bulimia, anorexia)
- Obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
A sensory disability can affect one or more senses; sight, hearing, smell, touch, taste or spatial awareness.
- Autism spectrum disorder (ASD)
- Blindness and low vision
- Hearing loss and deafness
- Sensory processing disorder
- Speech loss or impairment
This is by no means an exhaustive list, but rather a starting point. Next, I researched books that included characters with one or more of the above disabilities, both those that I’ve read and would like to read. I then reached out to the Bookstagram community asking for their suggestions and recommendations; you’ll find those here too.
Every month, I will showcase my top recommendation. For January it is:
The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time by Mark Haddon
Genre: Fiction / murder mystery
I first read The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time way before I joined Goodreads, (circa 2010) and have read it multiple times since. I studied it in English Lit, saw it on stage (AMAZING), have two editions (the only multi-copy on my bookshelf) and love it more and more with each re-read. The way Christopher draws us in to his world and helps us see things from his perspective is nothing short of brilliant. It’s simple, yet very thought-provoking. It might not have the most unpredictable storyline, but this one isn’t about the plot; it’s about Christopher, a highly intelligent and logical 15-year-old who navigates the world a little differently.
Quick summary: Christopher is on a mission to solve the murder of his neighbour’s dog, Wellington. Like his favourite detective, Sherlock Holmes, he knows exactly what he needs to do to find the culprit. But despite living his life by very strict rules, Christopher will be forced to leave his comfort zone behind if he wants to find the answers he’s looking for, and not just about who murdered Wellington.
Although it’s not specified, Christopher’s actions, patterns, and routine suggest he is autistic and most likely has Asperger syndrome.
Also recommended by @Books.Voices.
Here are some other books that feature characters with disabilities that I highly recommend:
The Shock of the Fall by Nathan Filer
Genre: Contemporary fiction
The Shock of the Fall is one man’s metafictional account of his life up to that moment, written while living in a mental institution. It started with his brother’s death – an accident that has forever eaten away at Matthew as he was partly to blame. From there, we see Matthew’s demise into an illness that has taken hold of him as he tries to piece together each part of his life.
The narrator in this book suffers from schizophrenia, while his brother has Down Syndrome.
Kokomo by Victoria Hannan
Genre: Contemporary / cultural fiction
Kokomo is a fresh Australian debut that explores family, love, and long-kept secrets. When Mina finds out her mother has left the house for the first time in 12 years, she catches the next flight back to Melbourne, desperate to uncover the truth. But the reunion is stilted as Mina’s mother remains a closed book. They will both have to face a painful past in order to find the deeply buried answers.
Mina’s mother, Elaine, has agoraphobia and hasn’t left the house since her husband’s death.
Before Her Eyes by Jack Jordan
As far as thrillers go, Before Her Eyes definitely has a unique angle. The main character, Naomi, is a blind witness to a murder and is the only person who can identify the killer. She can’t understand whether the killer let her live because he knew she couldn’t see him, or if he is taking her along for the murder-fuelled ride.
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker by Joanna Nell
Genre: Contemporary fiction
The Last Voyage of Mrs Henry Parker follows Evelyn’s search aboard the Golden Sunset to find her lost husband. Armed with a trusty map and her very comfortable ‘Find Henry’ shoes, Evelyn makes her way around the liner, experiencing more than a few mishaps while recalling past memories of her and Henry’s exciting adventures.
Evelyn suffers from dementia and the author does an incredible job of transporting the reader into Evelyn’s mind and giving us an insight into how it must feel to both suffer from and witness someone living with dementia.
Wonder by R.J Palacio
Genre: Young adult / coming-of-age
Wonder is a heart-warming story about an ordinary boy trying to find his place in the world. At 10 years old, Auggie begs his parents to let his start mainstream school, as he wants to be treated like everyone else. While many of Auggie’s peers only see what’s on the outside, a select few realise just how special Auggie is when treated like any other kid.
Auggie has a condition called mandibulofacial dysostosis, or Treacher Collins Syndrome which affects the development of bones and other facial tissues.
Behind Closed Doors by B.A. Paris
Behind Closed Doors is the type of realistic thriller that keeps you up at night. From the outside, Jack and Grace appear to have the perfect marriage, the perfect house, the perfect life. Always together, never apart. But inside, it’s a very different story…
There is a character in this novel (Grace’s younger sister, Millie) who has Down Syndrome.
Of Mice and Men by John Steinbeck
Of Mice and Men follows two drifters, Lennie and George, in search of work during the Great Depression. Their joint dream is to live off their own land, but just when that dream is close enough to touch, it all goes wrong due to Lennie’s misunderstanding of the world and his own sheer strength.
Lennie is intellectually disabled and described as being ‘simple-minded,’ which was likely the term when this book was published. In modern day, he is characterised as possibly having autism and/or schizophrenia.
Everything Everything by Nicola Yoon
Genre: Young adult
In Everything Everything, Maddie has a Severe Combined Immunodeficiency, sometimes referred to as ‘bubble baby’ disease. She’s basically allergic to the world, which forces her to be entirely housebound. When Olly moves in next door, their connection is undeniable and Maddie is faced with a choice that could jeopardise her entire existence.
Recommendations from the book community
I put the question to my Bookstagram followers and asked for their top book recommendations that include characters with a disability. I’ve already put a bunch on hold at the library!
- Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes, recommended by @Books.Voices (character with Autism Spectrum Disorder)
- Still Alice by Lisa Genova, recommended by @We.Should.Be.Reading (character has early onset Alzheimer’s disease)
- Turtles All The Way Down by John Green, recommended by @BookChara (character with anxiety and OCD)
- The Seven [Imperfect] Rules of Elvira Carr by Frances Maynard, recommended by @KP.BookCorner (character with autism)
- House Rules by Jodi Picoult, recommended by @Bookworm.Bekah (character with Asperger’s Syndrome)
- Out of my Mind by Sharon Draper, recommended by @Reading_Relish (character with cerebral palsy)
- A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll, recommended by @ReadingWithKT (character with autism)
- Fish in a Tree by Lynda Mullaly Hunt, recommended by @Reading_Relish (character with dyslexia)
- Dark Pines series by Will Dean, recommended by @ButBooksAreBetter2 (reporter who is deaf)
- Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf, recommended by @ButBooksAreBetter2 (character who is deaf)
- Truly Devious series by Maureen Johnson recommended by @BookChara (character with anxiety)
- The Ordinary Doll by Mario Kiefer, recommended by @aVictorianSoul (character with a physical disability)
- Rosie Loves Jack by Mel Darbon, recommended by @ReadingWithKT (character with Down syndrome)
- Tim by Colleen McCullough, recommended by @ButBooksAreBetter2 (character who is mentally impaired)
I hope we’ve inspired you to pick up one (or more) of these books and explore a story from a different perspective. Let me know your recommendations and I will be sure to add them to the list (and my never-ending TBR) 🤪