Tag Archives: fiction

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.

Fiction Book List!

Almost, but not quite, a year ago today I put a call out on my personal journal looking for recommendations or lists of YA books that feature characters with disabilities.

From that call out, I got just under 200 books (many listed multiple times), as well as lists of book recs from other sources.

I’m still going through and sorting them, looking for reviews of the books, but I thought it might be interesting to discuss here any pros & cons of the books listed, and the books that are included in other lists.

Part of the reason I like books like this is that the response to pop culture criticism from a disability-rights standpoint often is met with “But, what sort of stories do you want us to tell?” or “Telling such stories is difficult!” I want to generate a list of fiction that shows that yes, people with disabilities have stories – and not all of them are magical cures or dreams of being non-disabled. (Certainly not all of the books below don’t fall into those various traps – in the document I’m finishing up right now, many are flagged up as problematic, so this is more a book list than a book recommendation list!)

So, share your thoughts! What books would you recommend? Do you see any books on this list that you want to gush about, or point out as a problem? Anything you’d love to discuss with other readers? Feel free to link reviews of the books (your own or someone else’s), especially if they specifically mention the disability-related aspect.

Please flag up any spoilers in your comments.

Schneider Family Book Award Winners List

The Schneider Family Book Awards honor an author or illustrator for a book that embodies an artistic expression of the disability experience for child and adolescent audiences.

The Young Adult Library Association does lists of titles under certain topics every year.

Bodies: “They come in all shapes, sizes, and abilities…love it or hate it, you only have one body.”

What Ails You?

K-State Library Subject Guide: Disability.

Below the cut is the list that was generated from the comments on the above-linked post, sorted by author.
Continue reading Fiction Book List!

Recommended reading for May 11, 2010

sqbr at Poking at Thorns (with gloves on): Disability in Speculative Fiction: Monsters, mutants and muggles

Fiction reflects social attitudes, and the social attitudes to disabled people tend to suck. Disabled people are presented as scary, pathetic, exotic, demanding, laughable, etc. But some tropes are popular/unique to SF.

It’s not all bad: speculative fiction allows for powerful allegory, and can also make very interesting explorations/extrapolations of future attitudes/experiences of disability.

Jamer Hunt (Fast Company magazine): Our Bodies, Our Quantified Selves

The data generated by this micro-physics of the everyday has the potential to create unprecedented, massive databases available for projects from a dizzying array of fields. Imagine what researchers studying disease epidemiology might do with this information, or anthropologists exploring changing social patterns within the digital proletariat.

Courtney at From Austin to A&M: Cosplay, race, ability and gender; or, who gets to dress up as whom?

Doing cosplay as a femme!Doctor (or a black Doctor, or a visibly disabled Doctor, etc.) is part necessity (as in, I am in a lady-body, so if I want to cosplay as the Doctor, he would have to be a lady-body-Doctor, like a person in a wheelchair would have to be a wheelchair-user Doctor, or a black person would have to be a black Doctor). But it’s also a way for fans to see themselves in the Doctor, as the unquestioned protagonist of the show. Doctor Who fans can say all they like that DW is progressive enough in its way, but it’s still dated by its insistence that the main character be a white British man.

Lisa Sanders (NYT Magazine): Diagnosis — Pregnant and Pained

She didn’t have a fever, but the racking cough made her body ache all over. Her husband said it sounded as if she were coughing up a lung. Her OB said it was probably a virus. Whatever it was, it didn’t go away.

Switchin’ to Glide: “Independent Women”: Privileged Feminist Ideologies and Ableism

Independence or the pursuit thereof is a pursuit of privilege; the less that one has to depend on networks and relationships the more “successful” that person is. This is a profoundly ableist notion, in the sense that it constructs any sort of dependency as an obstacle to “success,” and because of the way our society is structured, people who are disabled are neccessarily dependent on various support systems.

Quoted: David Levithan in ‘Will Grayson, Will Grayson’ on ‘Mental Health Days’

i think the idea of a ‘mental health day’ is something completely invented by people who  have no clue what it’s like to have bad mental health. the idea that your mind can be aired out in twenty-four hours is kind of like saying heart disease can be cured if you eat the right breakfast cereal. mental health days only exist for people who have the luxury of saying ‘i don’t want to deal with things today’ and then can take the whole day off, while the rest of us are stuck fighting the fights we always fight, with no one really caring one way or the other…

One of the eponymous Will Graysons in Will Grayson, Will Grayson says this when he is trying to articulate how he feels about the concept of ‘mental health days.’ You can read my review of Will Grayson, Will Grayson at this ain’t livin’ if you’re interested in seeing more quotes from the book and reading my thoughts on it. (And feel free to discuss it here or there!)

Disability & Fiction: After the Dragon by Sarah Monette

Sarah Monette wrote a short story for Dragon Magazine called After the Dragon.

After the dragon, she lay in the white on white hospital room and wanted to die.

The counselor came and talked about stages of grief and group therapy, her speech so rehearsed Megan could hear the grooves in the vinyl; Megan turned the ruined side of her face toward her and said, “Do you have a group for this?”

She felt the moment when the counselor dropped the ball, didn’t have a pre-processed answer, when just for a second she was a real person, and then she picked it up again and gave Megan an answer she didn’t even hear.

The doctors talked about reconstructive surgery and skin grafts, and Megan agreed with them because it was easier than listening. It didn’t matter; they could not restore the hand that had seared and twisted and melted in the dragon’s heat. They could not restore the breast rent and ruined by the dragon’s claws. They couldn’t stop the fevers that racked her, one opportunistic infection after another like the aftershocks of an earthquake. Her risk of thirteen different kinds of cancer had skyrocketed, and osteoporosis had already started in the affected arm and shoulder.

They could not erase the dragon from her body, and she hated them for it.

Confession: I think I met Sarah Monette at WisCon last year.

I think this is an interesting story about disability. Unlike so many others I’ve read, it assumes the main character, Megan, is a complete human being and doesn’t need to go through something in order to become complete. It centers Megan in the story, not the reactions of her friends and family, while at the same time making it clear that not everyone can cope with a sudden dramatic change in ability status. It doesn’t present this as a story where Megan learns a Very Special Lesson, or is a Very Special Lesson for others.

I’m in a household where disability has been a component since I started it, so I’m not as familiar with the Stages Of Grief that can come from a sudden and traumatic change in ability status. To me, it all reads true.

I admit, I was dreading reading this when I realised it was going to be about disability and recovering from trauma, but I’m glad that I did. I think it’s a good short story, and I like how disability just is in it.

After the Dragon.