Blog

The Blog of Toledo Lucas County Public Library

10 Books by Disabled Writers You Should Read

Posted 8 months ago by Claire F

Posted in eBooks & eAudiobooks, Fiction, Literature, Poetry & Graphic Novels, History, Politics, & Biography, Movies, Music, & Audiobooks, Resources, Self-help & Spirituality and Teen | Tagged with Asperger's syndrome, Spinal muscular atrophy, Autism, celiac disease, chronic illness, depression, disabilities, disability, families -- fiction, friendship, personal growth and Schizophrenia

October is National Disabilities Awareness Month, in which we not only recognize the existence of disabilities and the need for accessibility, but also celebrate the achievements of disabled individuals, both on the individual and group level. As someone living with chronic illness and disabilities myself, I wanted to use this occasion to discuss literature by disabled writers, as well as discuss the concept of “Nothing About Us Without Us.” This slogan, dating back to the 1500s, is often used to bring home the idea that no policies should be created without the participation of individuals or groups that will be directly affected by said policies. This slogan has been used across different minoritized groups, and is heavily used within the disability rights movement.

A good example of when this was needed was during Deaf President Now, a 1988 protest lead by students of Gallaudet University (a private university focused on the education of the deaf and hard of hearing). The students were upset and insulted by the fact that, since its creation in 1864, they never had a deaf president. Students did not believe a hearing president should make decisions for them as they could not understand what it was like to be a deaf student, and after students shut down the school and town when a hearing president was once again chosen over many qualified deaf candidates, change was finally made and a deaf president put in charge.

Now, this slogan is also applied to media representation. A big area of discussion in the disabled community is about able bodied (nondisabled) actors playing disabled characters, while there are many disabled actors struggling to find work. Due to representation issues, I wanted to compile a list of books with disabled characters written by disabled authors. This list is broken down into memoirs, fiction, and miscellaneous, and is as follows.

Memoirs:

No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Parenthood, and Faith in an Age of Advanced Reproduction

by Ellen Painter Dollar is especially relevant to the times as it focuses not only on disability, but also reproductive concerns. This memoir focuses not so much on her life as a person with osteogenesis imperfecta (OI), but the life she is bringing into the world. After passing her disorder on to her first daughter, Painter Dollar begins considering invitro fertilization and preimplantation genetic diagnosis, but begins to question what these types of procedures suggest when it comes to the value of life, specifically disabled life.

Format
Print / Physical Book
No Easy Choice: A story of disability, parenthood, and faith in an age of advanced reproduction by Ellen Painter Dollar
Jennifer's Way: My Journey with Celiac Disease by Jennifer Esposito

Jennifer's Way: My Journey with Celiac Disease--What Doctors Don't Tell You and How You Can Learn to Live Again

by Jennifer Esposito is a unique memoir regarding its format. Rather than simply containing stories about her journey with chronic illness and long-awaited diagnosis with Celiac Disease, Esposito also includes her favorite celiac friendly recipes along with strategies to help maintain a healthy outlook and happy life with chronic illness.

Format

Print / Physical Book

The Center Cannot Hold: My Journey Through Madness

by Elyn R.Saks is the first on our list to focus specifically on psychological disorders. Now a highly respected professor, lawyer, and psychiatrist, this memoir focuses on the journey to get to this point in her life, from the first time she heard voices as a teenager, to her suicide attempts in college and beyond. Giving beautiful insight into the mind of someone with schizophrenia, this memoir is a must read.

Format

Print / Physical Book
Audiobook (Spoken CD) available
eAudiobook through rBdigital
The Center Cannot Hold: My journey through madness by Elyn R.Saks
laughing at my nightmare by Shane Burcaw

Laughing at My Nightmare

by Shane Burcaw is a very humorous account of Burcaw’s experience growing up with spinal muscular atrophy. His work is very relatable to teens as he was only 21 when he wrote his book, and makes difficult discussions accessible through humor.

Format

Print / Physical Book
eBook through Overdrive

Fiction:

It was quite difficult to find works of fiction which fit my search criteria. Searching “disability fiction,” I primarily encountered books written by able bodied individuals with disabled characters. While some were the parents of children with disabilities and had some exposure to disability in that way, this was still not what I was looking for. At the worst, disability was used as a plot device and, oftentimes, a negative one. I encountered stories where the primary threat was a person’s untreated mental illness. Love stories in which the main hitch and obstacle to overcome was trying to find love while wheelchair bound. While disability is an important part of the characters in the upcoming list, in reading these you will see the ways in which this is not the defining characteristic of these characters and how they have depth and experiences that go beyond simply being disabled.

Rogue by Lyn Miller-Lachmann

Rogue

by Lyn Miller-Lachmann tells the story of Kiara, a teen navigating high school as a student with Asperger’s syndrome. In an attempt to understand her world, she turns to the internet and discovers The X-Men, finding a deep connection with the character Rogue who cannot connect with others due to her powers (she hurts anyone she touches). Her desire to be like the character only grows after she's kicked out of school.

Format
Print / Physical Book

On the Edge of Gone

by Corinne Duyvis is unique in that it focuses on what happens when an autistic woman named Denise is faced with the apocalypse. I wanted to include this book since I read an article about disability and the apocalyptic narrative a few months ago, and thought the discussion was incredibly interesting. I highly recommend reading both this novel and the article by Shoshana Keesok - Disability Erasure and the Apocalyptic Narrative.

Format

Print / Physical Book
On the Edge of Gone by Corinne Duyvis
The Memory of Light by Francisco X. Stork

The Memory of Light

by Fransisco X. Stork pulls very closely from his own experiences with depression to tell the story of Vicky Cruz. After waking up in a mental disorders ward, Vicky must learn to navigate life after a suicide attempt. Learning to trust not only others but herself, this novel has resonated strongly among those suffering from depression, and is a fantastic narrative on the subject.

Format
Print / Physical Book
Audiobook (Spoken CD)
eBook through Overdrive
eAudiobook through Overdrive

Miscellaneous:

Thank you, Mr. Falker by Patricia Polacco

Thank you, Mr. Falker

by Patricia Polacco is the oldest entry on this list and, although autobiographical, included because it is a children’s book! It tells the story of a young girl with dyslexia who, with the help of a wonderful teacher who took the time to give her the academic attention she needed, helps her to succeed in school with a reading disability.

Format
Print / Physical Book

Life Disrupted: Getting Real about Chronic Illness in Your Twenties and Thirties

by Laurie Edwards is my personal favorite on this list. Part personal stories and part self-help, Edwards gives wonderful advice on how to mourn the idea of health after a diagnosis, how to advocate for yourself while dealing with uncooperative doctors, and accomplishing self-love with a disabled body. I have copied many passages down for later personal reflection, and I highly recommend it to anyone with a chronic illness.

Format

Print / Physical Book
Life Disrupted: Getting real about chronic illness in your twenties and thirties by Laurie Edwards
Beauty is a verb : the new poetry of disability / edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen

Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability

edited by Jennifer Bartlett, Sheila Black, and Michael Northen - is described on its dust jacket as “a ground-breaking anthology of disability poetry, essays on disability, and writings on the poetics of both… This is where poetry and disability intersect, overlap, collide and make peace.”

Format

Print / Physical Book

While I am happy to share these books with you, it is important to know that it is impossible to gain an understanding of what the disabled experience is from eleven books. In fact, unless you find yourself being disabled, you will likely never fully understand. I know there were plenty of things I did not know before my disorders began presenting symptoms. All I ask, if you take anything away from this post, is to be more aware. If someone in a wheelchair were in the space you are currently in, would they be able to navigate easily? Rather than thinking the person taking the elevator up one floor is lazy or getting upset the young, healthy-looking person is not giving their seat up to an elderly person on the bus, remember that not all disabilities are visible, and these may be accommodations they need to use to make it through the day. Your first thought is what you’ve been taught, while your second thought is what you have learned. Read, listen, and help make the future accessible.

Related Content

New for Teens

The great thing about young adult literature is that it has mass appeal! Check out our newest young adult fiction and nonfiction titles.