Category Archives: Reviews

Redemption and Domestic Chores

The Secret GardenMary Lennox is a lonely girl who only becomes more lonely when her parents die of cholera and she’s sent to live in her uncle’s huge, foreboding manor. But it is there that she meets her cousin, Colin, a boy just as lonely and neglected as she. He has lived his whole life in bed, believing he is going to die. Together the two embark on a mission to find a secret garden, and in the process, find the love and care they’ve been missing their whole lives.

My mom read this to me when I was a kid. At that point, I loved secrets and the idea that two ten year olds could coax a garden to life with no adult supervision was a thrilling one. I also really liked Mandy by Julie Andrews Edwards, a book about an orphan who finds an abandoned cottage and makes it her own. I guess I had a fascination for independence… and domestic chores. Not sure what that says about me. But now I’m grown up and certain things have happened to me, and when I picked this book up to read it again, I was drawn to the memory of Colin. I wanted to see what Frances Hodgson Burnett had to say about living with a disability (especially in 1911). Funny thing though, about three quarters of the way through I finally realized it’s not about living with a disability at all. It’s about the perception of disability and the perils of living too much in your own head with nothing but fear for company. It’s about the transformative powers of challenge and determination. It’s about redemption.

Colin’s illness is a direct result of the fears and misconceptions surrounding disability and infirmity in the world as a whole and Mistlethwaite Manor in particular. There’s nothing physically wrong with him. But his father is a hunchback (really just some severe scoliosis), and from his birth everyone around Colin assumed that he would be the same. The assumptions grew and multiplied until it was whispered that his back was weak, his legs were crooked, he was half-witted, and it was only a matter of time until he died. Even if all that were true, his ears worked just fine, so is it any wonder he believed all the horrible whispers, especially since no one ever bothered to say anything nice or positive to counteract them?

That is, until Mary shows up. I love the symmetry of Mary and Colin. It takes a sour, miserable little girl to shake a sour, miserable little boy out of the prison of his thoughts. It’s through Mary that we can see under the tantrums and the imperious demands to find and comfort the terrified boy underneath. Colin doesn’t want to die. He doesn’t want to wake up one day and find that his back has started to twist. But no one has ever bothered to give him something else to think about and hope for. Mary cuts though his despair with her own kind of harsh wisdom, giving him such simple childhood gifts like laughter and a belief in magic.

Normally, I’m not a fan of stories where a disabled character is healed (whether miraculously, magically, or through their own hard work), but since Colin’s disability was a product of fear and his unwillingness to test his own strength, his recovery was about something more than just slapping a pair of legs on a crippled boy as a reward. Colin’s healing was his redemption. He grew from a miserable, nasty child into a strong healthy boy determined to leave his “queerness” behind. He triumphed over his own mind, his fears, and his beliefs.

Colin’s recovery fit. But what bothered me at the end of the book was that his father’s return and their joyous reunion seemed to reinforce Colin’s belief that if only he were strong, if only he were well, then his father would love him. Archibald Craven’s feelings regarding his son aren’t very well defined. He wonders what he should feel when he visits the sleeping boy. And he only returns because of a vague feeling of happiness and the nagging of a local mother. In the Broadway version, it’s much clearer that Archie loves his son and only stays away because he’s been led to believe his presence would disturb Colin and make him more ill. Their reunion in the garden is bittersweet as they forgive past neglect and move into the future with hope and promise. However, I was very dissatisfied with the ending of the book. I wanted Archibald to be redeemed and Burnett obviously wanted us to believe he was but it just didn’t ring true to me. Too little, too late, Archie.

And not only does Archibald Craven’s love and care for his son seem to hinge on Colin’s new strength and ability, but also, Mary disappears. In remembering his son, Archibald is still forgetting the other young life dependent on him. Though given Mary’s independence and the lessons she’s learned, I think she’ll probably do just fine, even if her uncle can’t get his act together.

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More Than Just Another Zombie Book

World War Z by Max Brooks

Normally, I write a blurb or short synopsis of the book I’m reviewing; something like the back cover copy that hopefully tells you enough to know if you want to read it or not. However, World War Z was not a typical novel and as a result I’m having a hard time writing a typical blurb. It is written as “an oral history of the Zombie War” – a gathering of anecdotes from all kinds of people, in all kinds of places, with all kinds of stories. There is an overarching plot if you’re looking for it, but the magic of this book happens in the individual people and the snapshots of their experiences.

Tales of zombies are not new, with ancestors like HP Lovecraft and Mary Shelley, but Brooks tells this old tale with such a unique perspective you can’t help but read it as if for the first time. We look back on the entire incident from the finish line, focusing on details hardly ever seen in other zombie apocalypse stories. We see the first individual cases and a variety of responses. We see the gradual fall of society from all kinds of perspectives, and then we see society rebuilt. No angle was left unstudied. Politics, socioeconomics, psychology. Brooks took a really good look at these areas in today’s world, added zombies to the mix, and extrapolated what would happen next.

I loved this book if only for the perspectives and the amazing breadth and depth of the details, but scattered among the fifty plus anecdotes were a couple stories that really struck home for me. I am a nerd in a nerdy household. Josh and I have discussed zombie plans, usually with some humor and a sense of the ridiculous, but also with intelligence and forethought. And any time the apocalypse is brought up, whether it’s zombies or some other society-destroying event, I have this niggling little fear that all the disaster plans in the world wouldn’t be enough because I lack the single most important survival skill: the ability to run.

Brooks rides roughshod over that fear, creating several disabled characters who not only survive the zombie apocalypse but are realistic in their struggles and strengths. He highlights the tale of a blind Japanese man who retreats to the wilderness to keep from burdening his friends and relatives, to die dishonored and alone. Who instead, dispatches hundreds of zombies with a shovel and finds new meaning in his disability as the founder of a “Shield Society”.

Brooks also introduces us to Joe, a man who patrols his neighborhood from a wheelchair and scoffed when he encountered hesitance about his joining the Neighborhood Security Teams. “Hell-o! And what did she think we were facing anyway? It’s not like we had to chase them over fences and across backyards. They came to us. And if and when they did so, let’s just say, for the sake of argument, there was more than we could handle? Shit, if I couldn’t roll myself faster than a walking zombie, how could I have lasted this long?” I loved Joe’s voice, with his confidence in himself and his role, even through the breakdown and restructuring of society.

I’m waiting to see if the upcoming movie retains any of the unique and thought-provoking style of the book. So far, the trailers make it look like just another zombie movie. And that makes me sad, because World War Z was so much more than just another zombie story.

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Obsessive Wounds

Bent Not Broken by William R. Potter is a contemporary romance about a man with OCD finding the girl of his dreams and the struggles he faces, both in the world and in his own head, as he courts her.

I picked this book up as part of the research I was doing for my latest project since I have no experience with OCD, and my main character has a pretty severe case. But I picked it up as a reader as well as a writer. The premise was so intriguing. I love romances of all flavors, but I also love wounded or flawed characters. A character that has to fight against himself in order to win a chance at love? Let me at him.

As I’ve said before, I think an important aspect of portraying disabilities is the details an author gives. And there were plenty of details in this book. I was never in doubt of what Dwayne was feeling. His mental state was laid bare for the reader to see no matter how hard he tried to hide it from the rest of the characters. In fact, I almost feel like there might have been too many details. It read like a report with the author listing everything that Dwayne was thinking and feeling. I guess I would have liked more showing and less telling. This could have been a deliberate choice on the author’s part – a way to illustrate Dwayne’s state of mind. Unfortunately, I couldn’t tell. And if I can’t tell, then that choice hasn’t really been made clear.

There were also quite a few loose ends that seemed to blow in the breeze and their flapping was very distracting. Things that were mentioned that I assumed would be important ended up being left forgotten by the end of the book. Little things and big things alike. For example, the girlfriend’s cats. Dwayne is supposed to take care of them while Dee-Dee’s gone, but he falls into a drunken stupor for four days, forgetting about the cats. Dwayne and Dee-Dee fight, she comes home, they make up – but the cats are never mentioned. Not even so much as a “Hey, I’m sorry I killed your pets.”

And in the end I was disappointed with the depth of the story. There were so many places where the story could have been more vibrant, but instead of pulling out the shovel and digging into the things that made the book unique, Potter merely skimmed the surface. For instance, I wanted some discussion about the fact that Dwayne refused to treat his OCD, instead self-medicating with alcohol. This could have been a really interesting flaw, providing room for character growth. But it was a depth left unplumbed.

Overall, I did like the story. I thought the relationship was cute, and I was left wanting to know what happened next, which is mostly a good thing. I found myself really sympathizing with Dwayne; I felt his panic and his frustration with himself until he finally wanted to change so much that he sought the help he needed to become the man he wanted to be. And the descriptions of his OCD were so vivid that I wanted to reach in and cuddle him and intervene for him with the other characters. “Look what he’s going through. Can’t you see how hard it is?” But I was left with mixed feelings. I think this novella could have used a couple more drafts before hitting the press.

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The Universe at her Fingertips

The Ship Who Sang by Anne McCaffrey

Given her physical deformities and acute mind, Helva is chosen to become a “brainship”. She escapes the confines of a human body but there is still the matter of her human heart.

 

This is going on my shelf permanently since the last story in the book, “The Partnered Ship” kept me from meeting a deadline. Anne McCaffrey has been one of my favorites since I read Dragonsong in 8th grade, and she continues to be a best-loved author to this day. But my Pern collection is just going to have to scoot over to make room for this one.

Helva was born with some staggering physical challenges. I couldn’t tell what her disabilities were supposed to be specifically, but McCaffrey’s vivid description paints a pretty hopeless picture for Helva. However, with the help of some futuristic technology, she becomes the “brain” of a spiffy new spaceship, achieving more power and more control than any human has. She goes from being an embarrassing drain on society to a huge asset with the universe (literally) at her fingertips. In fact, several times throughout the book, when someone expresses pity for her situation, she states that she likes herself just fine and she’d never trade her titanium hull for a real body. She even pities the fragile “brawns” who get hurt so easily.

Yet Helva learns that physical hurt is the least kind of pain the universe can dish out. Her body might be protected by an impenetrable shell but her heart and mind are just as vulnerable as those of her more fleshy counterparts. And like any character, Helva learns, changes, and grows from her experiences, becoming a stronger, better person than she started.

I was worried that because of Helva’s technology she would be too powerful to be interesting. She’s a ship; she can just run from trouble, right? She can just use her super sensors to sniff out trouble and stop it before it can advance the plot. But I was wrong. McCaffrey created a strong, powerful character, but she also put her in situations that tested her abilities realistically and in some unexpected ways. She can’t always pull out all the stops because she is limited by her human companions. And she still experiences prejudice and misunderstanding from the highly evolved world.

We even get to see Helva save the day without her phenomenal resources. As a result of the inattention of one mentally and emotionally abusive partner, Helva is stolen from her ship and her sensory and movement connections are disengaged so she can’t see, hear, or move. For the first time in her life she is truly disabled. Yet she withstands the sensory deprivation and tricks her captors into giving her enough control so she can save herself and the others trapped with her.

I found it interesting that while Helva would never trade her ship for a body – and while borrowing an alien body she even thinks “how limiting mobility is” – her goal through most of the book is to find a suitable partner. She may be impenetrable, well adjusted, and confident in herself and her abilities but she’s still lonely. She still longs for companionship. And in the end she finds her own kind of love – a partnership that’s beautiful and fulfilling even without the possibility of ever being able to hold her beloved.

Exploring the bounds of humanity is not a new concept in science fiction, but what a unique and stirring way to ask the questions “what makes us hurt?” “What makes us human?”  Well done, McCaffrey.

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Not a Damsel in Distress

Girl Stolen by April Henry

Griffin just wants to steal a few Christmas presents and pawn them for some quick money to get his dad off his case, but when he sees a brand new SUV with the keys hanging invitingly from the ignition, he’s sure his luck’s finally changed. Snatching the car is a breeze. He doesn’t realize that he’s also snatching a girl.

Huddled under a blanket in the backseat, Cheyenne plots her escape. But how can she run when she’s blind? And what happens when her kidnapper becomes her protector?

 

I think I read this book in one sitting. It’s short, to the point, and easy to read, but it’s also packed with emotion, great characters, and great plot. I loved Cheyenne who right off the bat is working out how to use her weaknesses as her strengths. Yes, she’s scared, she’s blind, and she has a severe case of pneumonia, but that doesn’t stop her from luring her captors into underestimating her. She’s not a damsel in distress, waiting for her prince (or her father) to come bash the bad guy over the head. She does her own bashing, thank you very much.

There appears to be an art to portraying characters with disabilities well. I’m defining well as believable and intriguing, where the disability adds something to the story rather than taking something away, like just cutting out sight or the ability to walk. I’m thinking the key is in the details. It’s the details that make an impairment real. Details like Cheyenne orienting herself by sound, or how she explains the little difficulties of eating. They meld together over the course of a book to create a superb image and character in our minds.

And it wasn’t just Cheyenne. I loved how real Griffin’s reactions to her were. Forgetting to point out steps and asking if he can use the word ‘see’ around her. It was a great mix of experiencing how someone lives with a disability and how those around them respond.

I was also really drawn into Cheyenne’s emotional journey. It was taking place in flashbacks, not in the present story, yet it felt so real and immediate. Her initial reaction to her blindness seemed like a fairly typical response, especially for a teenager, but again, it was the details that really pulled her out of cliché and gave her life. She mentioned that she hoped when people saw her they’d think she was normal. She hid her cane under her seat so they wouldn’t see her disability. I used to do that. Play a little game in my head. If I put my crutches over here, and stand like this, and avoid walking, maybe I’ll look normal. Parallels like that aren’t necessary for me to like a character, but I’ll tell you, they don’t hurt.

Oh, and she has a service dog! I was disappointed he was absent for most of the book, but I got my fix through flashbacks and interior monologue. Dogs are always awesome. Always. Period.

One of the things that made this such a page turner was the blurred line between good guy and bad guy. A little gray can be a great thing. In this case Griffin is more of an accidental villain. He makes a mistake and it just keeps getting worse and worse. We feel bad for him, and by the end of the book, we’re rooting for him. What a great turn around.

All in all, a great book. I felt like it could have been longer and deeper but that’s probably because I was enjoying it so much that I wanted more. Usually a good thing. This is going on my recommended list.

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Finding the Door

The Door in the Wall by Marguerite de Angeli

When Robin loses the use of his legs, he loses the chance to become a knight like his father. But with the help of a kind monk and a wandering minstrel, maybe he can find his own sort of heroism in order to save the castle.

 

This is not my usual genre. The Door in the Wall isn’t fantasy, it’s historical fiction. Nevertheless, there is something magical about this book. Robin lives in fourteenth century England, and at the beginning of the story, he has contracted some kind of illness resulting in paraplegia. You might think that a book about a crippled ten-year-old might be depressing, but you’d be wrong. Because of the way he faces his disability, Robin’s tale is fun and encouraging.

He faced challenges but encountered none of the prejudice or misunderstanding that was probably aimed at those with disabilities in the Middle Ages. There was really only once that someone told him he couldn’t do something. Not exactly realistic, but this is a middle grade book (geared for kids 9-12ish), so I wasn’t expecting really heavy themes. Let’s not scare the kiddies with lifelong infirmity, please. However, the theme that did come across loud and clear was extraordinary enough and one that some adults have plenty of trouble with: that when you come up against a hardship or challenge, there is always a way through. You just have to find the door in the wall.

One of the things that roped in my disability-and-all-its-quirks-obsessed mind was the friar who took Robin in and cared for him. Brother Luke not only feeds and bathes him, performing the role of care-giver, but he also massages Robin’s back and legs and makes him build up his stamina by sitting up and then swimming. I kept wanting to point and say “Look! A fourteenth century physical therapist.” I don’t know what illness Marguerite de Angeli had in mind when she wrote Robin – it could be any number of things from guillain barre to lyme disease – so I can’t say how accurate his recovery is, but Robin regains some strength from all this. He can support his weight enough to get around on crutches, and he can swim like a fish (granted, a gimpy fish, but he doesn’t drown which is the important thing).

As if care-giver and PT weren’t enough, Brother Luke also takes on the role of counselor and occupational therapist. He teaches Robin carpentry, how to read and write, and how to sing and play the lute, giving him some very valuable emotional stability. Robin learns that he can be helpful and useful, even if he will never be a knight. Do you know how long it took me to realize that just because I couldn’t be a PT, it didn’t mean there wasn’t something equally important I could be doing? I’ll just say this ten-year-old kid beat me to it.

Sure Robin still frets about whether he can do certain things, and he worries about what his parents will think when they find out about his new limitations, but Brother Luke’s efforts have given him a self confidence that would be the envy of most healthy adults. And when the castle is threatened, he steps forward to accept his role. In fact he’s the only one with the right combination of skill and innocence to pull off the mission and he embraces it wholeheartedly, saving the castle and becoming a hero in his own right. Oh sorry, was that a spoiler? What? Did you really think he wasn’t going to do it?

So you can see why I liked it so much. I thought it was highly deserving of the Newberry Medal it received. In 1949. Did I mention this was written in 1949? Seriously, some of the books I’ve read from this year aren’t this enlightened. You can bet this is a book I’ll be reading my kids just as soon as they’re old enough to get past all the thees and thous.

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Frohock’s Mercy

Miserere by Teresa Frohock

After abandoning his lover in Hell in order to save his sister, Lucian is left feeling battered and broken by his decisions. His sister, unappreciative of his sacrifices, continues to consort with demons and fallen angels, and now she wants him to use his ability to open Hell gates to serve her fallen master. This is the last straw for Lucian, who realizes that the sister he loved is beyond saving. He wants a chance to correct his mistakes, but can he redeem himself to the order he forsook and the woman he betrayed?

 

Teresa Frohock storms the gates with her debut novel Miserere. The story drew me in right from the start, giving me a protagonist with achingly familiar wounds and a world I wanted to explore on my own two feet. I really love broken characters with pasts they can’t outrun, and Miserere was full of shattered people trying to put each other back together.

One of the things that really struck me about this book was its really unique structure. Normally, a book has an instigating event, something that propels the character into the story, then they go along until something forces them to change their plans. And they go along some more until the black moment, right before the climax and resolution, where everything seems to fall apart and you think they can’t possibly win after all that.

Miserere started after what seemed like the blackest moment already happened. Lucian had already put his love and trust in the wrong person and betrayed everyone who depended on him and turned his back on everything he’d had faith in. But the book isn’t about how Lucian got to that point. It’s about how he pulls himself back from it. His backstory is revealed little by little, and we get to see just how far he fell as we see him climbing back toward righteousness. It’s about healing, forgiveness, and redemption. No wonder I liked it so much.

Lucian seems like the character I should be talking about. His disability is plain. He was crippled deliberately by his sister, who wanted to prevent him from running away again. He walks with a permanent limp, suffers from fatigue, and has limited movement in his weak knee. There are several climactic points in the book where Lucian takes up his sword to defend someone and his knee gives out on him at the worst possible moment. I loved that it was in these moments, when he reveals his strength, his faith, and how far he’s come from the man he used to be, that his weakness struck him down. Yet even when he’s forced to the ground, he crawls toward danger. He struggles to find his cane so he can stand and resume his defense, or he goes straight for his enemies, even while on his knees.

While I loved Lucian for his strength and his journey, it was Rachel who truly fascinated me. Her obvious weakness was the eye she was missing from a demon possession, and she does have to worry about her blind spot while she’s swinging her sword around. But what was the most disabling for her was the wyrm’s infiltration of her mind. It clouded her thoughts and her abilities, led to blackouts and memory loss, and all in all weakened her in an entirely different way from the physical. Her ability to trust herself and her perceptions was shattered. Her physical blindness was only the outward expression of her clouded mind.

One last thing that blew my mind a little bit was the title. I picked this book up for the title. To me Miserere sounded like misery and that was just too intriguing to pass up. But miserere actually means “have mercy”. Given the characters, the plot, and the themes of this book, do I really need to say any more? Maybe just a little. Holy crap is that awesome.

In some areas the writing was a little amateurish – I could tell this was Frohock’s first book – and I felt like some clarity was lost in an effort to spread out the backstory. Despite that, I tore through it in two days, so those must not have bothered me too much. This time I read it as an ebook, but I’ll definitely be getting myself a physical copy so I can add it to my collection.

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My Kind of Smart

Hazel, the protagonist of John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, has been living with cancer for years. She goes through life knowing that death is just around the corner, stalking her patiently.

I know I usually write about disabilities, but if dying of cancer isn’t a disability, I don’t know what is. Now, I wouldn’t have said my difficulties are anything like those of someone diagnosed with cancer – I’m not dying of anything; aside from the bum legs, I’m pretty healthy – but I found a lot in this book and in Hazel as a character to relate to. Much of the story was wrapped around Hazel’s favorite novel, and she talks about how she feels like the author knew exactly what she was feeling, sometimes even before she could find the words to express it. In many ways, that was how I felt about The Fault in Our Stars.

I watch John and Hank Green’s videos on youtube and, holy crap, are they awesome. So, I have to admit, I was worried this book would be too smart for me, like the classics everyone else thinks are amazing while I’m sitting alone in the corner wondering what I’m missing (To Kill a Mockingbird and Catcher in the Rye, I’m talking about you. Don’t worry, Dracula and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, you’re fine). But Green’s book ended up being my kind of smart. It was about making the best out of crappy circumstances. It was about finding humor where you could, and it was about living with pain. If you’ve read some of my other posts on living with a disability then you know my philosophy. You know how I try to find things to laugh at, things to take pride in, despite the pain. And Green seems to have hit that nail on it’s admittedly narrow head.

And there were plenty of other details that I saw as reflections of my own life. At the Anne Frank house in Amsterdam, Hazel worries about holding up all the other tourists while she hauls her oxygen tank up the stairs. If I had a nickel for every time I’ve worried about the line forming behind me on stairs, my library would be a lot bigger.

She hates the empty words of encouragement everyone gives her, but when faced with someone else’s pain, those same substance-less phrases find their way in her mouth. You’d think it would be easy, but it’s horrible how hard it is to share comfort for your own kind of pain.

And Hazel knows what it’s like to be asked “are you okay?” when you’re obviously not. You say “I’m fine”, because it’s simpler than “well, I’m dying of cancer, but besides that, everything’s hunky-dory” or “well, I’m supposed to be getting married in three months and suddenly I can’t walk down the aisle, but thanks for asking.” I’ve come far enough that now, when I answer “I’m fine”, I almost always mean it. But there was a time when that question stabbed me like a bread knife (huge and serrated) and all I could do was smile through the pain and hide the blood. And just like Hazel and her idolized author, Green has captured that exact feeling of maintaining two faces, one for yourself and one for the world.

I could keep going in the same vein, but the entire point of this blog is not to bore you, so I’ll quit while I’m ahead. So after all that, I would like to say this was not on my favorites list – yes, it’s a list, there are too many good books to pick just one favorite. I thought the dialogue was unreal, and not in a “hey man, that concert was totally unreal” kind of way. The main characters were way too grandiloquent and verbose. Existentially fraught basketball shots? Seriously, who talks like that? No one. Especially not teenagers. And let’s not forget the protagonist is a dying teenager. A bit too depressing for me. A Nickolas Sparks fan I am not. However, I’m not going to deny that the book affected me. Deeply. (Deny? Good grief, who am I kidding. I just wrote an entire post on it.) My imaginary hat is off to John Green for the amazing and almost creepy, stalkerish way he’s put my feelings on paper. So long as his other protagonists don’t sound like pretentious Harvard professors, I’ll definitely be checking out some of his other works.

So, random question: how many books do y’all think are on my favorites list? The person who guesses closest gets a prize: their choice of an excerpt from Cinderella, Robin Hood, or the brand new (translation: unedited) Beauty and the Beast. And for the cheaters out there, the list on my goodreads isn’t complete, so tough luck.

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Wheelchair Waltzing

Phantom Waltz by Catherine Anderson

After losing the ability to walk in a barrel racing accident, Bethany Coulter considers herself lucky just to be able to function as independently as she does. She has reconciled herself to never being able to ride or dance or date ever again. But when she meets Ryan Kendrick Bethany begins to hope that she can find love and happiness despite her disability.

 

I’ll start by saying that I’ve found I’m more critical of books that feature disabilities similar to mine. I want them to be good. I’m invested in their success. So I expect more of them, like a teacher with their star pupil. Or like Scrooge standing over Bob Cratchit’s desk with unreasonable expectations. I haven’t decided which yet. That’s why I was so excited to start this book. A heroine in a wheelchair? So up my alley that it’s parked in my driveway and knocking on my door. Except… it wasn’t. I think somehow it got the house next door.

Bethany Coulter has an incomplete spinal cord injury at L2. For those who Spinal Columnaren’t anatomy nerds, that means her spinal cord was damaged at the second lumbar vertebrae, the lowest portion of the spine. If the reference means anything, mine was at T9 (T for thoracic, the middle portion of the spine). One thing Anderson did right was provide a lot of specific details. What bothered me was that most of them seemed wrong for Bethany’s injury level and the functionality she should have had. In my experience, L2 is a very low injury. In fact, they don’t get much lower than that, which means she should have normal upper body strength and pretty good core balance. So why is she in a power chair? What was her occupational therapist thinking? Power chairs are great for those without the strength and balance to push a manual wheelchair, but they’re huge and heavy and have to be recharged every night. It didn’t make sense that Bethany used a power chair when a manual one would have served just fine. Unfortunately, this incongruity was present all through the book. Bethany was very clear about how she needed a dressing sling in order to get dressed, and what I can only describe as scaffolding, in order to go to the bathroom.

Now, I know that every injury is different, especially incomplete ones, and my experience is not the be all end all of SCIs. But from the information given, Bethany and I should have been very similar. I know I’ve never used a dressing sling (never even heard of one), and I don’t even need to use the bars in the handicapped stalls to go to the bathroom. At most, I sometimes used a sliding board for particularly tricky transfers, but I eventually gave it away because I stopped needing it. I’d love to read about heroines with such low functionality, but if Anderson really wanted her protagonist to actually need all the equipment she uses, she should have made Bethany a quadriplegic, or at least have a much higher level injury. It would not have changed the story any, and the details would have been correct.

Aside from all that, I had a hard time liking Bethany as a character. She was always telling people about how she wanted to be independent, but she acted so helpless when she was in trouble that I had a hard time believing it. And she was always explaining how hard things were, or how she couldn’t do something specific instead of trying to work around her limitations. She did manage some heroics (yay for crawling to save your man while a bear’s on the loose!) but in the end it just didn’t make up for her overall wimpiness. Maybe it was just that her philosophy was so different from mine. All I know is that I kept wanting to yell at her, “Go for it! You deserve better! Why can’t you be with him? He built you a ramp for pity’s sake. What better expression of love and commitment does a girl need besides a ramp?” But as usual, my cries went unheeded.

At the last, Bethany did learn that it’s better to live your life to the full, accepting the risk that you might get hurt, than to live safe but unhappy in a box of your own making. As far as themes go, this is one I can definitely get behind. I want disabled characters to figure out how to continue doing the things they love instead of sitting around whining because that’s what I want for myself. I wasn’t an athletic person before my injury so I’m not missing a lot, but I can guarantee that one of these days I’ll figure out adaptive sailing because I really want to sail again. Though it might have to wait until we live near some water. It’s hard to sail in a desert.

Although I agree with this theme, I want to point out that I think finding a balance is equally important. I can fight to find ways to do the things I love while accepting there are other things that I will never do again. I’m perfectly capable of taking short hikes around the Rockies (so long as I’m okay with being in some pain afterward), but I will probably never climb a fourteener. I’m sure there are other people with disabilities out there who have, but to me, it’s not so important. So I’m going to accept it and move on to the things that are.

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Angels and Lost Socks

Darby KarchutGriffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire by Darby Karchut

Griffin has been struggling his whole life to become a guardian angel, but it isn’t until Basil, an older angel, saves him from an abusive master that Griffin really feels he has a chance to succeed. Now Griffin must learn to trust Basil as his new mentor and gain control of his magic in order to pass his final trial and become a Terrae Angeli. But it won’t be easy with a cute girl across the street to distract him and his old master out to sabotage his training.

 

Normally, I try to review books that have something to do with disabilities, but Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire knocked my socks off, and I wanted to tell y’all about them before I went in search of my lost footwear.

I absolutely loved these books. Darby masterfully weaves strong themes like abuse, good vs evil, and healthy relationships with snarky wit and normal teen angst. Her style is light and fun and easy to read without losing any of its deeper meaning, creating a subtly compelling page turner that made me laugh out loud. I kept telling myself to slow down and savor it, but the books ended up in the bathroom with me a couple times because I couldn’t put them down even to pee.

Griffin is a gripping character right out of the gate, with his abusive past and hisDarby Karchut drive to prove himself to Basil. But he isn’t perfect. We watch him fail almost as much as we catch those brief glimpses of success. It’s hard to have a character who is always trying to do the right thing manage to screw up so often, but Griffin pulls it off with stunning style, and always in a way that had me longing to back him up. Alas, I still have not figured out a way to reach through the pages of a book to claw an antagonists eyes out. When someone comes up with that technology I’ll be the first in line.

One of the things that makes Darby’s books stand out from every author in the YA crowd clamoring for attention is how she handles a boy’s relationship with his role model. Too many teen books portray adults as stupid, clueless, or absent, relegated to roll-your-eyes clichés or conveniently pushed off stage while the teenagers whine that “no one understands them” – a guaranteed ploy to hook younger readers, but still a cheap one. Parents become a fixture, no more exciting or influential than the lamp by the couch. I’m not a parent, but as an adult, I resent this image that persists that I’m too stupid or too lazy to care about whatever problem the current set of teens is solving. Darby’s portrayal of Griffin’s healthy, trusting partnership with his mentor was less a breath of fresh air and more a gale force wind blowing the competition away. Basil was not only deeply intuitive but also actively present in Griffin’s problems while still allowing the teenager the chance to be the hero. Basil is the light that contrasts the dark of the abuse Griffin suffered. He became exactly what Griffin needed to heal and grow as a character.

I felt like the antagonists in both books were a little weak, two-dimensional with no real motivation for opposing Griffin, but, boy, did I love to hate them. Also, I really wanted to see the resolution with Milton in Griffin’s Fire, but that ended up happening “off screen”. A little disappointing. I was excited to see the brief Darby Karchutnod to Darby’s next series with the Tuatha de Danaan. Finn Finnegan comes out March 2013.

Griffin Rising and Griffin’s Fire join a very short list of books that I couldn’t wait to finish so I could turn back to the first page and read them again. I can’t wait for Griffin’s Storm, the third book in the Terrae Angeli series, to see Griffin grow even more.

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