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‘Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read.’ – Groucho Marx

Disability in YA

Guest post: Angel Gouvas

Diverse representation is an ever-growing topic in literature, especially in YA novels. The #WeNeedDiverseBooks campaign has expanded since it first started in 2014 and though we are seeing a rise in more books published that do include diversity, it isn’t enough.

One section of diversity that needs to be more represented in YA is characters with disabilities. A disability isn’t just something that you can see; it can be invisible, mental and even cognitive. It isn’t something that everyone will notice – some people might even hide it well. But no one should be ashamed that they have a disability and because of that, it should be represented in literature.

When someone picks up a book, they try and find themselves in it. If we want to represent humanity in literature, we should be representing us all. Disability in YA doesn’t just give a reader a place but it also spreads awareness of disabilities to people that may not know about them, and may not understand.

A couple of months ago on Angel Reads, my own blog, I spoke about disability on covers and I want to again to explore this notion. It’s not enough that we have these characters in our books. Why not put them on the front cover? Disabilities should also be visually depicted on covers. It should be clear from the outset, especially if the books focuses on the disability. We shouldn’t hide away from disabilities, they should be front and centre, so that everyone knows and understands that this world is diverse and we aren’t all able-bodied.

Diversity is so important, and so is own voices. We shouldn’t just be sharing stories that feature disabled characters, but also those who write them. If an author has the same disability as their protagonist, imagine how much more immersive that would be? While it’s still fiction, it also has the potential to be very real. You are reading a story from someone that has experienced that disability; they have gone through it day in, day out.

Novels that feature disabled characters also don’t need to be sad. It doesn’t need to be a book that will make you cry, or fall apart. It doesn’t need to be contemporary and set in the ‘real’ world. It can be a fantasy or a sci-fi. The options are endless. It’s so important for those who read it that characters with disabilities are included in a variety of settings. That they can be in a world with dragons, or that they are happy with who they are and to some degree live a normal life.

Please also remember that you although you may have the same condition as a character, their experience might be different from yours. That doesn’t mean it is wrong, just that this person has experienced it in a different way.

With all this in mind, here are some recommendations that I think people will enjoy. I’ve tried to give you a range of recommendations from mental health to physical disabilities. I would also like to say that some of these books may have subjects that could be triggering or difficult for some people. Please look into the book before you pick it up.

Lady Midnight by Cassandra Clare

Cover of Lady Midnight

Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo

Things I Should Have Known by Claire LaZebnik

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde

Paperweight by Meg Haston

A Tragic Kind of Wonderful by Eric Lindstrom

What are some novels that feature characters with disabilities? Have you read any of those that I mentioned above?

You can check out more posts about disability in YA on Angel Reads disability diaries, an ongoing feature where I talk about everything to do with disability in literature.

– Angel 

Angel started her book review blog ‘Angel Reads’ in 2012 when she wanted to share her love for young adult novels. She is an avid member of the YA community and shares her love for #LoveOZYA by interviewing Australian Young Adult authors for a #LoveOZYA series on ‘Angel Reads’. Angel graduated from the Associate Degree in Professional Writing and Editing at RMIT. And is currently studying for her Bachelor of Communication – Public Relations. Angel is currently the 2017 PR Intern at Melbourne Writers Festival. 

1 comment


Love this so much! I've followed Angel's Insta for a few years and love her content :')
And totally agree! Eric Lindstrom writes amazing books about characters with disabilities!!

12th Dec, 18