15 Books With Disability Representation
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July is Disability Pride Month, a relatively new holiday that began in 2015 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities Act. The greeting card aisle, corporate sponsorships and general awareness may not have caught on just yet, but there's a lot of disabled people among us who deserve to be celebrated, not pitied. An estimated one in four adults in the United States lives with some form of disability, according to the CDC. That number's probably a little low, since it doesn't account for those who live with chronic illnesses like diabetes, mental illnesses like anxiety or depression or other types of disability that aren't often recognized as such even by the people they impact.
Disability isn't a tragedy or something to be looked down upon. It's an important part of many people's identity. That's why many members of our community prefer the term "disabled person" (also known as identity-first language) instead of "person with a disability," (also called person-first language). Think about the way you'd say "LGBTQ+ person" instead of "person with LGBTQ+." Terminology aside, reading books by disabled authors and that prominently feature disabled characters is a great, supportive way to see what living as a disabled person is actually like — and realize that we can have steamy romances, hilarious hijinks and meaningful contributions to our chosen fields just like anybody else.
Here are some of our favorite books that celebrate disability pride to add to your TBR pile.
The Pretty One: On Life, Pop Culture, Disability, and Other Reasons to Fall in Love with Me by Keah Brown
In a collection of essays on her life as a Black disabled woman, pop culture, romance, self-love and more, Brown takes us inside her life with fresh, often lighthearted prose. It's empowering, insightful and relatable, no matter who you are.
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Solutions and Other Problems by Allie Brosh
Acutely observational, gut-bustingly funny and covering topics like grief and powerlessness, the antics of her pets and the absurdity of life in general, Brosh's illustrated essays are like a warm hug in graphic form. If you liked her first book, Hyperbole and a Half, you'll devour this one.
The Kiss Quotient by Helen Hoang
Math whiz Stella has more money than she can spend – but she's never been kissed. She's on the autism spectrum and the idea of kissing grosses her out so she does the only logical thing: Hires a professional escort to help her figure out the whole sex situation. But of course, Michael Phan's lessons quickly turn into more than either of them bargained for.
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True Biz by Sara Novic
True biz (adj./exclamation; American Sign Language): really, seriously, definitely, real-talk
The kids at the River Valley School for the Deaf want what every other teen does: To pass their classes, do a little canoodling and get their parents, the government and the medical establishment out of their business. This book celebrates disability rights and social justice, but it's also just a wonderful story of human connection, whether you're hearing or not.
Sorrowland by Rivers Solomon
Desperate to provide a better life for her children, Vern flees the religious compound to give birth to her twins in the forest. But as she's pursued by her community, her very body fights back. She'll have to face the past she's fleeing and confront the future that awaits in this Gothic fiction that will reimagine what you know of monsters.
The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais
Even though it's technically YA, the story of a Deaf teen who has to move to a new public school before her senior year will engross readers of any age. Maya's new teachers underestimate her and a new boy starts to learn American Sign Language so they can communicate better, but their relationship is threatened when she makes a choice he can't understand.
Good Kings Bad King by Susan Nussbaum
Told through the eyes of teenagers living at an institution for the disabled, the kids in this story are typical in just about every way. Their emotions run hot and cold, they form complicated micro-societies of their own, and they yearn for independence and autonomy in a world that's denied it to them.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert
After almost dying, chronically ill Chloe Brown has made a list of things she wants to do to spice up her life and she recruits her sexy, devil-may-care neighbor to help her do it. Of course love isn't on the agenda, but is it ever? Those of us who are itching to get back out there will want to pick up this steamy romp as inspiration.
Beauty is a Verb: The New Poetry of Disability
A robust anthology of poetry by disabled writers, each section also begins with an artists' statement to contextualize their work. It's perfect for both longtime poetry readers and newcomers to the form.
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The Collected Schizophrenias by Esme Weijun Wang
This moving and sharp-eyed look at the experience of getting diagnosed and living with schizoaffective disorder gets right at the heart of what it's like to live with mental illness. That ranges from the impact of higher education and the medical community, to using fashion as a masking tool, in a collection that will resonate with just about all readers.
Disability Visibility: First-Person Stories from the Twenty-First Century, edited by Alice Wong
This incisive essay collection celebrates and examines the important contributions, complex lived experiences and unique culture of the disability community in the U.S. today. It's edited by activist Alice Wong, who also wrote a memoir called Year of the Tiger that's a must-read.
We Are Never Meeting in Real Life.: Essays by Samantha Irby
From the author of Wow, No Thank You and Meaty comes a collection of essays on navigating adult friendships, why she should be the next Bachelorette, a trip to scatter her dad's ashes and so much more. Pro tip: Hydrate before you start reading, because this one is a spit-take waiting to happen.
Disfigured: On Fairy Tales, Disability, and Making Space by Amanda Leduc
In so many fairy tales, the villain likely has some sort of disability. What does that tell children who hear these stories growing up? This eye-opening book examines "once upon a times" from Grimm to Disney to uncover how they influence our views of disabled people today as well as the disability rights movement as a whole.
Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork
Marcelo hears music nobody else can and has an eye for details others miss, but what he sees as an important part of who he is, his father doesn't believe exists. He forces Marcelo to work at his law firm for the summer, where he meets his beautiful coworker Jasmine and Wendell, the son of another partner. There, he finds drama, jealousy, romance and even a little mystery.
What Doesn't Kill You: A Life with Chronic Illness - Lessons from a Body in Revolt by Tessa Miller
With the deep research of a piece of journalism and the searing emotion of a memoir, this look at life with chronic illness is a little bit of both. It's a frank examination of what three in five chronically ill Americans goes through, and an important read for us all.
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