Tag Archives: book review

Book Review: Lasting Treasures by Julie Ellis

This piece contains lots of spoilers.

I wanted to love this book, I really did. I have enjoyed the couple of Julie Ellis novels I’ve read, but this one just tipped the charming/not happening scale a bit far. It has a really strong heroine in Vicky, who escapes the Russian pogroms to build a new life in America, trying to negotiate a difficult family situation and life as a prominent businesswoman. But there are lots of issues in this book that really grated, for example, every time a black servant is given an order, Ellis always points out how they were delighted to do it.

I’d just like to focus on the disability issues for now, though. There are many, not least with the disability-as-punishment trope cropping up at the end when the antagonist of the piece, Vicky’s son, has a stroke and is paralysed. He’s then housed in the cottage in which his mentally ill father shot himself. The very same cottage in which he kept Vicky while pretending she had a mental illness because he didn’t like the direction in which his mother was taking the company. Yep, it’s a bit of an intense novel.

But what I really want to talk about is the characterisation of Anita Roberts. Anita is married to Mark, a man Vicky falls in love with. So, naturally, she has to be a deceptive, evil shrew because that is the way “the other woman” gets sympathy in romance fiction. Except, she’s a wheelchair user, so it gets a lot more… interesting.

At first, Anita is set up as a martyr, the victim of a tragic accident who is doted on by her charming husband. They are a ‘special couple,’ Vicky is given to understand, and Anita is the darling of their social circle. As it turns out, she’s shrewd and conniving. She uses the excuse of the accident to deny her husband sex, even though the doctors said that they could have an ‘almost normal sex life’! It turns out that Anita never really wanted sex before the accident either, and now her horrible cruelty of not wanting sex has been unleashed! How terrible! It couldn’t possibly be the case that Anita doesn’t owe Marc sex, and she has become confident enough in herself to not engage with a sexual life she doesn’t really want. No, indeed. It is all about Marc’s pain and setting up his affair with Vicky. Anita’s not wanting sex gets to be the strange part, gets to be part of her evil scheme against poor Marc.

So, we’ve got the good crip who turns out to be hiding a deeply bitter and nasty nature. That’s old hat. But it was quite something to see that set up with a gendered aspect, too. Anita’s out to disparage Marc’s achievements and interests constantly, and she forces him to do ‘whatever she asks’ because otherwise he’s a terrible husband to his tragically beautiful and “damaged” wife. I suggest we identify a new trope, the Bad Shrewish Crip. The perfect mix of misogyny and ableism, out now at a bookstore near you.

But I really start to grit my teeth when we bring Anita’s Jewishness into it, because she perfectly fits the JAP stereotype. The Jewish American Princess is held to be a nagging, high maintenance woman with expensive taste and no sense of how irritating she is. And Anita is a JAP all over: she pokes fun at Vicky for having been a maid, loves designer clothing, and ends up forcing her husband to move to London as it is the only ‘civilised’ city on Earth. She’s simply set up as the most horrible conglomeration of disability, gender and racial/ethnic/cultural/religion stereotyping I have encountered in quite some time. The Bad Shrewish Jewish Crip, maybe?

So, in short: wanted to like it, feel kind of bad saying this because I like the author, but for goodness’ sake, this was one of the more frustrating reads of my year, and that is really saying something.

Recommended Reading for November 23, 2010

miss_invisible at Take a little look… (DW): Origins

I often find myself wondering when, exactly, everything started. Have I always been dealing with mental illness? Have I always been, to greater or lesser degrees, disabled? At times the wondering borders on obsession, the inability of my anxious mind to let things go making me turn the thought over and over in my mind. Maybe part of me thinks that if I knew when it started, if I could find some moment and say, “This is when it began,” then maybe I could master it. I could understand it, I could control it, I could fix it. Ridiculous, obviously, but a lot what goes on in my head has fairly little to do with logic.

Shoshie at Catalytic Reactions: Afraid to Fly (trigger warning)

I particularly worry about flying the day before Thanksgiving.  The flights are so full, the airlines are looking for any excuse to boot people.  And now, there’s the added stress of the body scanners/grope searching.  I don’t want to go through the body scanners.  I don’t want someone to see my naked body.  I’m not ashamed, but I haven’t done anything wrong.  They have no right.

Lene Anderson at The Seated View: Everyday Hero

The click in my mind that connected that to the undertone of amazement that a person with a disability would adapt and go on with their life. It’s as if there’s a sense of awe that someone would face difficulty or pain without being curled up in a corner, gibbering in fear and how this bestows upon the person a regard as being a role model. Because it is apparently inconceivable to the able-bodied that it is possible to have a life while not being able to move your body the way the Abs do. Inconceivable to the point that there is this weird sense that disability conveys an alienness, an otherworldly not quite personhood.

BenefitScroungingScum at The Broken of Britain: Clare’s Story

I’ve been exhausted for as long as I can remember. I remember walking along in a kind of dream state when I was 7 or 8. I never went out anywhere as a teenager, I didn’t have the energy. At 19 I went to Germany to be an au-pair and remember the exhaustion of that. When I returned I went straight to University to study German. In a summer job in a museum in Munich I used to imagine making a den in the coaches that were part of the exhibit. I started to forget words. A nightmare for a linguist. That’s when it got worse. In my year out, I developed an allergy and was prescribed a high dose of antihistamines. I just slept through the rest of that year. The next year I developed a flu that didn’t go away and slept through my final year too.

Shari Roan for the Los Angeles Times: Sensory stimulation could prevent brain damage from stroke

Imagine a safe, inexpensive and drug-free way to prevent the long-term brain damage that often follows a stroke. No such treatment exists, but a new study involving rats suggests it might not take much to prime the brain to repair itself in the immediate aftermath of a stroke. For the rats, the simple act of tickling a whisker was enough to allow the animals to regain full cognitive function after a severe stroke — as long as the treatment was given within two hours.

Harriet Hall at Science-Based Medicine: Chronic pain: A disease in its own right

Herself a victim of chronic pain, [author Melanie Thernstrom] brings a personal perspective to the subject and also includes informative vignettes of doctors and patients she encountered at the many pain clinics she visited in her investigations. She shows that medical treatment of pain is suboptimal because most doctors have not yet incorporated recent scientific discoveries into their thinking, discoveries indicating that chronic pain is a disease in its own right, a state of pathological pain sensitivity.

Recommended Reading for November 17, 2010

Your friendly neighbourhood Anna is out of town at the moment. Please enjoy this recommended reading post from the future.

Lindsay at Autist’s Corner: Doubly Deviant: On Being Queer and Autistic

EXECUTIVE SUMMARY: This is a very long, rambly autobiographical post about being bisexual and being autistic: it compares my experiences coming to terms with both of these facts (always knowing about the autism, vs. having to figure out the sexual orientation; and also, doubting the possibility that I could *have* a sexual orientation because I thought autistic people didn’t date or have sex, or even want to do either of those things) with those of Amanda Forest Vivian, who is a lesbian, and autistic, and has written about those things at some length at her own blog. I also discuss the ways being autistic has complicated being gay for me — besides my initial difficulty realizing that what I felt about girls was, in fact, sexual desire, there was also a profound isolation from the larger Gay Community, which I never felt like I could (or would want to) join.

Have we linked to High Functioning yet?

A list of different ways people use the word “high-functioning” about people with developmental disabilities; an attempt to figure out what it actually is supposed to mean.

Interested humans–people with disabilities, staff, family members, allies, and people who are more than one of those things–are invited to share different ways they have heard the term “high-functioning” be used.

Amanda Forest Vivian at I’m Somewhere Else: 12. Bird Brains

The classic example of impaired “social skills” in people with “Asperger’s” is a person who constantly talks about their favorite subject, and doesn’t notice other people’s boredom or discomfort. I will explore this by presenting two people who like to talk differently.

Shiva at Biodiverse Resistance: Call for Papers – * Critical Autism Seminar Day * Tuesday, 18th January 2011 (UK)

Keynote speaker: Anne McGuire* (Department of Sociology and Equity Studies in Education, Ontario Institute for Studies in Education (OISE), University of Toronto, Canada). Anne’s doctoral research analyses the social significance and productive effects of cultural representations of autism produced and circulated by individuals and collectives engaged in autism advocacy in the contemporary West.

Our aim is for this conference to be as inclusive as possible. We welcome activists, undergraduate and postgraduate students, practitioners and academics to join us.

Melissa Mitchell at Service Dogs: A Way of Life: Book Review: MAKING THE MOVE TO MANAGING YOUR OWN PERSONAL ASSISTANCE SERVICES (PAS): A Toolkit for Youth With Disabilities Transitioning to Adulthood

(includes PDF link to download of book)

This in-depth 69 page guide covers this ins and outs of personal assistants for youth with disabilities utilizing the stories of youth with disabilities to illustrate topics related to utilizing, hiring, and selecting personal assistants. Pages 10-12 talk about Service Dogs and an option for meeting personal care and assistant needs. The section is clear, honest and bringsup many good points people who are new to dogs often don’t realize.

US: National Federation of the Blind: Penn State Discriminates Against Blind Students and Faculty

Baltimore, Maryland (November 12, 2010): The National Federation of the Blind (NFB), the nation’s oldest and largest organization of blind people, announced today that it has filed a complaint with the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights, requesting an investigation of Pennsylvania State University (Penn State) for violating the civil rights of blind students and faculty. The NFB filed the complaint because a variety of computer- and technology-based services and Web sites at Penn State are inaccessible to blind students and faculty. Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act requires public state universities to offer equal access to their programs and services.

This is being discussed as well at the Chronicle of Higher Education: Penn State Accused of Discriminating Against Blind Students. Please be aware that the comments are… Well, they’re internet comments in a place that isn’t exactly disability-friendly, although there are many people pointing out that blind students would like to be able to get classroom material as well.

Anyway, I have just realised that I am actually writing this from the past – I always get confused when I travel if I’ve gone forward or backward in time.

Recommended Reading for September 7, 2010

Lisa Harney at Questioning Transphobia: QT and Posting and My Inability to be Consistent

Oh, and a lot of neurotypicals learn about ADHD symptoms, and they think “I lose my keys sometimes? I lose my train of thought! I miss deadlines!” And you know, it’s true. Everyone does these things occasionally. But the difference is that you do not do them every. single. day. This isn’t what your life is like, this is when you have a bad moment – you’re tired, overwhelmed, in a hurry, and bam, a thing happens. This is what life is like every day for ADHDers, and when we’re tired, overwhelmed, in a hurry, then it’s that much worse for us. So, I can understand if you relate to these symptoms? I’m sure most people do. But don’t generalize how you experience them (as not-symptoms, assuming you do not have some other condition that causes similar symptoms – or you’re not an undiagnosed ADHDer yourself) to how I experience them (as symptoms). For me, they are a daily impairment.

K__ at Feminists With FSD: Book review — The Camera My Mother Gave Me [trigger warning for sexual assault]

The negative reviews usually contain some variation of gross-out due to TMI or frustration with Kaysen’s lack of progress in treating her pain medically. It’s TMI and gross because vaginas and vulvas are generally considered vulgar and gross – at least outside of feminist circles – sometimes even within feminist circles, because don’t talk about vaginas too much or else you reduce yourself to a big walking vagina – and thus it’s a shock to read such frank language and descriptions about the vagina.

Tammy Worth for the Los Angeles Times: Mental health parity act may affect your medical benefits

Other provisions of the bill require out-of-network coverage for mental health services, parity of coverage of medical and mental health medications, and if someone is denied coverage of a mental health service that is deemed medically unnecessary by the insurer, patients have the right to find out why.

Andrew Palma for the Golden Gate [X]press (San Francisco State University student newspaper): University loses scholar, activist

Longmore is arguably most well known for his 1988 protest outside the Social Security Administration’s Los Angeles office. He burned his book about George Washington, written word by word with a pen in his mouth and a keyboard, to protest policies that penalized disabled writers for counting royalties from their work as earned income.

Adrian Morrow for the Globe and Mail: Efforts to battle chronic pain found lacking

Some 80 per cent of people around the world who suffer from chronic pain can’t get the treatment they need and governments must step up their efforts to tackle the issue, says Michael Cousins, an Australian anesthetist and the driving force behind the first International Pain Summit [. . .] Earlier this year, he had a hand in drafting a national pain management strategy for Australia – the first in the world – and the summit, which takes place in Montreal on Friday, will draw up guidelines to help other countries follow suit.

Book Review: Wicked by Gregory Maguire

[Cross-posted at Zero at the Bone.]

This post is about the book version of Wicked, not the musical (they’re quite dissimilar). There’s one minor spoiler for the musical, and I’ve tried to minimise the spoilers about the book, though this is a book review so watch out!

Wicked is concerned with the story of the Wicked Witch of the West from Baum’s The Wizard of Oz, which is a fabulous premise, I’m sure you’ll agree. Well, having seen the musical previously, I was a little apprehensive about social justice concerns in the book. And we get off to a flying start with this section of the first scene:

‘[…]What a Witch. Psychologically warped; possessed by demons. Insane. Not a pretty picture.’

‘She was castrated at birth,’ replied the Tin Woodman calmly. She was born hermaphroditic, or maybe entirely male.’

And the ‘patronizing speculations,’ as the Wicked Witch of the West, Elphaba, thinks of these remarks (she’s spying on them in this scene) don’t end there. So, naturally, I was wary from there on out. Look, there’s lots I could talk about in this review: what I found to be a half-baked treatment of race, the truly gorgeous worldbuilding, many “what the pancake” moments, some of the most rounded characters I’ve found in fiction. But I think the treatment of Elphaba’s sister, Nessarose, in terms of her being disabled, needs a whole review to itself.

Before I get to her, though, I should point out that Nessarose is not the only disabled character in Wicked. There’s one memorable paragraph in which Elphaba remembers the last time she sees her old school friend, Tibbett. She’s nursing him and it’s the first time she sees him since he became an “invalid”.

Then, a year ago, pale invalid Tibbett was carted to the Home for the Incurables. He wasn’t too far gone to recognise her even behind her veil and silences. Weak, unable to shit or piss without help, his skin falling in rags and parchment, he was better at life than she was. He selfishly required that she be an individual, and he addressed her by her name. He joked, he remembered stories, he criticized old friends for abandoning him, he noticed the differences in how she moved from day to day, how she thought. He reminded her that she did think. Under the scrutiny of his tired frame she was re-created, against her will, as an individual. Or nearly.

So he’s portrayed as one of the “Incurables,” far gone into hopelessness, an object of pity. Yet still with his inner strength – which, while it is conveyed with tenderness and some depth, is ultimately a vehicle for a Very Special Lesson for Elphaba. And we never get to hear his voice; he’s just here, briefly, portrayed through the voice and memory of his carer. Which is something we’ve all encountered before.

So, to Nessarose, who is described by her sister as having been ‘horribly disfigured from birth’ as she doesn’t have arms. Whose movement is described by the narrator in sinuous, snake-like terms, bizarrely fascinating to look at. Who is conveyed as so pretty and charming, but so helpless and unfortunate, poor dear. Who just can’t get a man because who wants to be with someone like her?

No. No no no no. No. And I thought the sickly sweetness of the character in the musical was bad. It’s like Maguire was trying to cram as many disability tropes in as possible.

But that’s not all there is to Nessarose. She’s a major political figure, which is pretty cool. However, she’s a tyrant, which is… on the one hand, a powerful disabled woman? That’s pretty cool. On the other, another disabled villain? Are you quite serious? What really ties the characterisation of Nessarose into a complex ball of flat out ableism and confusing hints of marvellousness is how her religiousness is treated. There is likewise a little more nuance here. All the way through reading, I was constantly wondering how it was going to play out: was she going to be the unfortunate disabled person of faith who gets manipulated into being a Very Special Lesson to one and all? Was she going to turn into a dangerous figure, driven by religious extremism and her rage about her unfortunate (unfortunates in this paragraph are sarcastic, by the by!) disability? I certainly wasn’t expecting either her faith or her disability to be treated respectfully. And you know something? I was right. She ends up being a theocratic tyrant who has some pretty nasty effects on her people. A thousand points if you too were betting on an evil disabled dictator.

I want to touch on some of the discrepancies between the book and the musical. Anyone who has seen the musical will remember the scene in which Nessarose arises from her chair in one of those “It’s a happy piece of popular culture and I can walk!” moments. Which is bad enough, but, hang on, she doesn’t use a wheela chair in the book! I’m just wondering why on earth the makers of the musical decided Nessarose should be changed to a four-limbed wheelchair user. It’s as though impairments are interchangeable and a wheelchair is a universally applicable marker of disability. I think it would have been great if they’d decided to be true to the book and employ actors who don’t have arms for the musical. I guess we can dream!

In conclusion: skip the book unless you are really into quality worldbuilding and some pretty beautiful characterisations.

Guest Post: Book Review: Everything Beautiful

Karen Healey is an able-bodied author of young adult literature and a PhD candidate at the University of Melbourne. You can read more of her musings on reading, baking, and social justice at her blog, Attention Rebellious Jezebels.

Everything Beautiful, Simmone Howell. Pan.

I am the maniac behind the wheel of a stolen dune buggy. Dylan Luck is at my side. We are tearing up the desert, searching for proof of God.

Riley Rose’s mother died two years ago, when she was fourteen, and everything went to hell. Now her father and her new stepmother have sent her to a week-long camp at Sprit Ranch, AKA the Palace of Suckdom.

I decided I would pack only frivolous things: eyelash curlers and costume jewellery and little jars of antipasto. If I had to go to Christian camp then I would go as a plague. I would be more like Chloe: outrageous and obnoxious — call me a plus-size glass of sin! It wasn’t until Melbourne was wavering behind us like a bad watercolour that reality hit. As the kilometres ticked I sank into my seat and practiced holding my breath. On a silo just past Horsham someone had painted an escape button. ESC – ten feet high against a concrete sky. I almost asked Dad to stop the car so I could press it.

There, she meets Dylan, who used to be a bullying jackass before the accident that cost the use of his legs. Now he’s just sort of a jackass, and his old Bible Camp friends don’t seem to know how to act around him in the chair.

Craig came forward. “Here you go, dude.” He clamped a hand on Dylan’s shoulder and handed him a shiny bundle. Dylan was slow to unfold it, too slow for Craig, who moved across and shook it out, and held it up for display. It was a vest identical to his. Craig draped it over Dylan’s shoulders and announced: “So this year there’s two Youth Leaders!” … I whistled and threw my lavender sprigs at the stage. A flower landed on Dylan’s chest. He watched it fall to his lap and then he picked it up. I noticed his cross then: thick and silver, hanging on a thin leather string. As he held the sprig of lavender, his face changed and I had a sudden flash that he looked on the outside how I felt on the inside: Lost. Moody. Superior. Charged.

Dylan smelled the flower and stared straight at me. Then he put it in his mouth and ate it.

HIJINKS ENSUE. Hijinks include [minor spoilers!] (skip)
Daring Escapes, Heartfelt Confessions, makeovers, loveable doped-up friends, the theft of a shroud, Mean (Christian) Girls who turn out to be real girls, and one of the sweetest, hottest, most beautiful love scenes I’ve read anywhere

I LOVE this book. I love that the two main characters have bodies deemed unacceptable by Western standards – Dylan because he’s a wheelchair user, Riley because she’s fat – and yet are developed as a romantic and sexy pair. I love that Dylan is not a Ministering Angel Who Inspires Us All, but a complex person who’s a moody jerk a lot of the time, but charming and wickedly entertaining a lot of the rest. Howell manages to pack a good deal of wheelchair etiquette and disability awareness into the narrative, but not preachily; mostly it comes as Dylan sarcastically noting something that Riley’s never had to consider before.

In fact, every person in this book, however quickly drawn, comes across as a portrait, not a caricature. Characterisation is Howell’s great strength. No! It’s dialogue. No! It’s humour. No! It’s pace.

Wait, maybe it’s description:

The sun dipped. The sky became the near-night blue of shadows and stolen moments. Now the ground was firmer. The land had flattened out and Dylan’s tracks were no longer visible. Here and there, I found little reflecting pools, and then at last I saw one great big one. The lake was a giant mirror reflecting a crazy-paving of tree and sky. Up ahead I saw a monster gum tree with wandering roots that looked like they’d waded right into the water and thought, fuck it, let’s stop here. Dylan must have thought the same thing. He was in his chair, facing the water, a little way back from the edge.

Everything Beautiful is. Highly recommended. I don’t know where it’s available outside Australia, but the Book Depository has it here, although I have Thoughts on that particular cover.