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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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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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