Natalie Monroe reviews THE COLLECTOR

Natalie MonroeNatalie Monroe is currently studying for a B.A in English for the oldest reason in the book: she loves to read. When not fangirling over various books, she can be found watching cartoons, bugging cats who want to be left alone and spreading sarcasm. She also writes YA with fantastical elements because she believes we all need a touch of magic in our lives.

You can find her on Twitter and Goodreads.


The CollectorThe Collector is sort of a hit-or-miss book. You’re either going to love it and worship Victoria Scott to the high heavens or you’re going to hate it and burn the pieces. I am proud to say that I belong to the former and am now officially Team Dante Walker Victoria.

It has a fantastic protagonist (I’ll talk more about Dante later), plenty of snark and best of all, a disabled heroine.

A lot of readers ask for more diversity in YA, such as PoC or queer characters and I completely agree with that. But I hardly ever see people complaining about handicapped characters, or the lack thereof, in YA. And I’m not talking your issue-driven contemporaries where the whole plot is focused on his or her disability. I’m talking facing down fey armies, battling evil wizards or saving the world — and I want them to do it from a wheelchair or with another disability.

I am disabled. I suffer from a nifty little thing called Myopathy and I limped (and tripped) around for three years until my doctors suggested I use a wheelchair to prevent a self-induced concussion.

I get that it’s hard for authors because there are a lot of limitations if your characters are disabled. You can’t have them charge screaming down the steps to battle vampires. You have to build them a ramp or have them shuffle slowly downstairs, preferably with someone else holding onto that heavy sword. They might even refuse to show up for battle altogether because they’re uncomfortable around large groups of people or because their broccoli touched their carrots again.

So when I saw that a paranormal romance (or urban fantasy) featured a disabled heroine, I flipped out. I was excited, proud, yet terrified that Victoria Scott would butcher Charlie and her limp.

And my verdict?

Give yourself a hand, Victoria, because you did a fantastic job. Charlie is never defined by her disability and is instead, portrayed as an adorkable and good-hearted person. She does charity work, hangs out with her friends and makes out with Dante. Her limp is completely overshadowed by day-to-day normalcy (as normal as it can get anyway, with Dante under your roof), but there are subtle hints throughout the book reminding us. In short, Charlie Cooper is your average, down-to-earth girl—who happens to be disabled.

But occasionally, this normalcy backfires. Like this scene for instance:

[Charlie] keeps walking, pumping her short little legs to outpace mine. Seriously? I’ve got half a foot on this girl.

Um…yeah, that’s not really possible. A person with a limp cannot walk that fast. Seriously, I limp and I have friends who limp. We move like shuffling zombies with an iron ball attached to our ankles. There is no way Charlie can walk faster than Dante. And there’s this scene where Charlie jumps on the bed with Dante, which is really cute and all, but illogical too. Charlie has a bad hip. She can maybe bounce up and down a few times if she’s lucky, but then her leg’s going to give out and if this were a manga/anime…yeah, we all know what’s going to go down.

Another thing that irked me was how Charlie’s limp was used as a plot point. She fulfills the soul contract by wishing away her limp. My bone wasn’t with how her limp ‘magically disappears’ (Marieke Nijkamp has a marvelous post on this issue). It was with the sad truth that the author hadn’t set out to create a disability for the heroine just for the heck of it, but as a means to advance the plot. It’s like the issue-driven thing all over again. I don’t want a reason for a disability, I just want it to be.

But those are minor things and Charlie is a super sweet and competent heroine, so I’ll let it go.

Plus, we all know who the star of the show is—one Dante Walker.

“I came as Awesome Sauce,” I say. “You probably wouldn’t recognize it.”

I can tell you right now if you don’t like Dante, you’re not going to like this book. The guy is cocky, selfish and an all-round jackass in the beginning. And he admits it.

But there are times when his badass exterior slips and you see he’s actually a nice guy underneath. And as the story goes on, you see more and more of these moments, like Dante helping Charlie’s grandma and that scene with him comforting a little girl on the airplane. Plus, he actually sounds like an authentic guy and comes with his own, personal brand of sarcastic, witty banter. And I love me some snark.

The part I didn’t like about Dante was him calling Charlie “baby”. I hate guys who call girls “baby”, even as an endearment. It’s like they can’t even be bothered to remember their names. At least Dante only does it twice (yes, I counted).

The world-building is wonderful and I love the whole unique spin on the Heaven/Hell dynamic. Secondary characters are also very well-done. I see so many props BFFS shunted aside once the hot guy/girl shows up and it’s nice to see characters that aren’t there just for the sake of making the heroine/hero look good. Is it wrong that I was sorta, kinda rooting for Blue to end with Charlie? I know Dante has to end up with her (hell, the whole plot would be obsolete if that didn’t happen), but come on, the guy loved her before Dante did. And she wasn’t even beautiful then!

Sadly, the plot fell a little flat for me; there weren’t any ohmygod plot twists, but it was layered enough for entertainment value. And honestly, Dante makes up for a lot of it, even if the latter-half him is a tad cheesy.

The romance is nice enough, but if you really think about, it’s a tad insta-love. Took the boy eight days to go from:

My eyes widen at the sight of her. This is the girl Boss Man is after? She looks like a porcelain doll… beat three times with an ugly stick.

to this:

I will protect this girl with everything I have, because if something happens to her, I will lose myself. I will cease to exist.
And I will take everyone with me.

But I do appreciate the point Victoria was trying to make: we’re awesome and beautiful no matter what we look like. And don’t let anyone, even a hot dude with smouldering eyes, tell you different.

All in all, The Collector is a fantastic and humorous read and I highly recommend it. And if anyone out there writes a kick-ass disabled character along the lines of Susannah from Stephen King’s The Dark Tower series, tell me because I would so read the crap out of it.

Marieke Nijkamp: The Trope of Curing Disability

Marieke NijkampMarieke Nijkamp is a dreamer, avid tweeter, and proud-to-be geek with degrees in philosophy, history, and medieval studies. In the midnight hours of the day she is a storyteller, represented by Jennifer Udden at the Donald Maass Literary Agency. Marieke is one of the founding YA Misfits and founder of DiversifYA, an inclusive community where people share experiences, in the hope that all of us who write will realize the world is much bigger than our little patch of earth. That we are diversity, and that one day our stories will reflect that.

Growing up, one of my favorite classic children’s book was Frances Hodgson Burnett’s THE SECRET GARDEN. One of my favorites, I think, for two reasons. One, an ancient house on the moors and a secret walled garden? WANT. Two, a bed-ridden, disabled boy.

As a mostly bed-ridden, disabled girl, I—surprisingly—identified with Colin more than with most able-bodied characters in most books (which, up until that point, formed about 99,99% of what I read, because frankly, it was and is surprisingly hard to find disabled characters). Sure, he was angry and unlikeable and pitiable, but at the very least he wasn’t the villain. Progress, right? Besides, I loved the idea of him going out and making friends and creating his only little piece of world.

That feeling of identification lasted right up until the point where he got out of his wheelchair and threw off his disability.

Now in Colin’s case, it might be argued that he was never disabled at all, just weakened and made ill, but to me, it felt like a betrayal. Again. He wasn’t the first character I met who overcame his hardships and was miraculously cured, and he wouldn’t be the last one either. In fact, for disabled characters, being cured is a common trope. What’s more, in most of these narratives, classics as well as recent kidlit, the characters are cured because they’re better than they were at the start of the book: kinder, gentler, braver. And finally, finally, they’re normal and whole.

And quite frankly, that trope needs to GTFO.

First of all, because obviously, we can’t always be cured. We can’t magically regrow limbs, or defy paralysis through sheer willpower. There are no wonder pills to get rid of an extra chromosome, and the magic world isn’t open to us Muggles.

But surely, I hear you say, if a cure were available (let’s pretend I’m talking about a panacea here), everyone wants it? Well, no. This is a very personal issue, and one of much debate within the disability community. We don’t always want to be cured.

Speaking from my own experience, I’ve seen the cure discussion from two sides. When it comes to my physical disability (a combination of several autoimmune disorders), I’m incredibly grateful that there are medicines out there that allow me to function and manage my chronic pain. Days that are completely pain-free are rare, but at least my current meds take the edge off, and with that in I can manage. Sure, some days I think a cure would be nice, but it’s not one of my priorities in life.

When it comes to my Asperger’s, I would categorically deny any form of cure. To put it bluntly: this is the way my brain works, and for all that there are challenges, there are enormous upsides too. This is the world I see and the world I’ve built for myself, and you don’t get to mess with that.

Does that mean no one wants to be cured? Of course it doesn’t. Plenty of people do, and that’s their good right. But I’d still feel confident in saying most of us don’t think about cures on a daily basis (or, in fact, about our disabilities). After all, this is our normal. This is who we are. And we can be perfectly happy just the way we are, thank you very much.

TV Tropes kindly points out that, “if the only happy ending the writers can imagine for the character is to magically lose their disability, this could be a little depressing for disabled people living in the real world.” And sometimes, it is. Not because we can’t be cured. Not because we won’t be cured. But because it means we aren’t recognized as people but only as labels, not as characters but only as characteristics.

And because, really? Is that really the only possible happy ending? How about a happy ending wherein we get the girl (or boy)? How about a happy ending that lets us save the world? How about a happy ending that involves us staying disabled? Is that so hard to imagine?

I don’t have to be cured to be happy. I don’t have to conform to the physical notion of perfection (whatever that is) to be a whole person. I don’t feel physically better when I’m kinder, gentler, braver. Nor am I evil because my legs don’t always work.

Most of the time, at least.

Because fair warning, I might go on a rampage the next time I see a miracle cure in my kidlit.

Tomorrow’s Twitter Chat

Hello, lovely people!

This is a reminder of tomorrow’s Twitter chat. Keep an eye on our account, @DisabilityinLit, to participate. We’ll be using the hashtag #DiKLchat and we’ll be kicking off at 3pm EST/noon PST.

We’re  hoping to make this chat of particular interest to authors–discussing experiences writing disabled characters and avoiding common pitfalls. Questions and experiences are more than welcome.

We hope to see you tomorrow!

Corinne Duyvis and s.e. smith review VIRAL NATION

Corinne DuyvisA lifelong Amsterdammer, Corinne Duyvis spends her days writing speculative MG and YA novels, such as the forthcoming YA fantasy Otherbound (Amulet Books, June 17, 2014). She enjoys brutal martial arts and gets her geek on whenever possible. Visit her online at @corinneduyvis.

s.e.smiths.e. smith is a writer, agitator, and commentator based in Northern California, with a journalistic focus on social issues, particularly gender, prison reform, disability rights, environmental justice, queerness, class, and the intersections thereof, with a special interest in rural subjects. International publication credits include work for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Guardian, and AlterNet, among many other news outlets and magazines. smith’s writing on representations of disability in science fiction and fantasy was recently featured in The WisCon Chronicles, Volume 7. Assisted by cats Loki and Leila, smith lives in Fort Bragg, California. You can follow s.e. on Twitter, ou personal site, Goodreads, and lots of other exciting places online.


Viral NationAfter a virus claimed nearly the entire global population, the world changed. The United States splintered into fifty walled cities where the surviving citizens clustered to start over. The Company, which ended the plague by bringing a life-saving vaccine back from the future, controls everything. They ration the scant food and supplies through a lottery system, mandate daily doses of virus suppressant, and even monitor future timelines to stop crimes before they can be committed.

Brilliant but autistic, sixteen-year-old Clover Donovan has always dreamed of studying at the Waverly-Stead Academy. Her brother and caretaker, West, has done everything in his power to make her dream a reality. But Clover’s refusal to part with her beloved service dog denies her entry into the school. Instead, she is drafted into the Time Mariners, a team of Company operatives who travel through time to gather news about the future.

When one of Clover’s missions reveals that West’s life is in danger, the Donovans are shattered. To change West’s fate, they’ll have to take on the mysterious Company. But as its secrets are revealed, they realize that the Company’s rule may not be as benevolent as it seems. In saving her brother, Clover will face a more powerful force than she ever imagined… and will team up with a band of fellow misfits and outsiders to incite a revolution that will change their destinies forever.

Warning: this discussion contains significant spoilers. Go here to skip directly to our spoiler-light conclusions.

Continue reading

Big Changes to DiKL

Hello everyone! Hope you all are having a lovely Friday thus far.

Today Corinne, Kayla, and I are announcing some news. Disability in Kidlit will be undergoing some changes, and we wanted to round them up and share them with you today.

Monthly Posts

Instead of posting once a week, Disability in Kidlit is altering its schedule. From now on, we’ll be posting new content on the first Friday of every month.  As writers, Corinne, Kayla, and I have schedules which fluctuate with each new project, and right now, we all need to be focusing on our writing. We’re still very devoted to DiKL, however, and we want to keep bringing you the best content we possibly can without us or our contributors feeling rushed. However . . .

We’re Still Seeking Submissions

So please don’t let this change stop you from submitting your post ideas if you’d like to contribute. In fact, we still actively need and welcome submissions! Remember, we’re looking from posts from people who identify as disabled, on topics that relate to their disability and children’s lit. Check out our submissions page for more detail. We’re particularly looking for more reviews. In addition, a couple of weeks ago we updated the page detailing what we’re looking for in terms of articles. Take a look, if you haven’t yet!

Tumblr

We will still be updating our Tumblr daily, so please check that out if you haven’t already. We post and reblog some great content on the subject of disability there.

And we have one piece of very exciting news . . .

Twitter Chat!

Corinne, Kayla, and I have been talking for a while now about running a Twitter chat to discuss disability and its relation to children’s literature. And we’ve finally nailed down a date! Please join us on Saturday, February 22nd at 3pm EST/noon PST using the hashtag #DiKLChat. We’ll post a reminder for this closer to time. Meanwhile, follow the Disability in Kidlit Twitter account for any updates.

Have a lovely weekend, everyone! We’ll see you on the first Friday of the month!

Caitlin Mongillo: Fitting in and Standing Out

Caitlin MongilloCaitlin Mongillo received her B.A. in English and Secondary Education in May, 2010. In 2013, she completed her MSW from Stony Brook University. Caitlin recently relocated from Long Island, NY, to her new home in Southwestern Connecticut. Currently, Caitlin is the coordinator of an employment center, which helps people with disabilities find, and sustain, work. She also works part time as the social media manager and newsletter writer for a non profit organization which helps people with print disabilities. In her free time, Caitlin enjoys volunteering, reading, watching movies, hanging out with her family, being snarky and drinking copious amounts of green tea. She shares her home with her fabulous husband, a mischievous beagle mix named Sam, and her lovable yellow lab guide dog, Laser.


I can feel their eyes on me. They’re all staring, judging. My blue striped tee is too big and my jean shorts are too long. They don’t like that I don’t wear make up and they think my ponytail is childish. I don’t know how I let myself leave the house this morning; after all, it’s my first day of high school. First impressions are so important, and I’m failing, miserably. My bus got in late, and I could not find the class, so now I’m late to homeroom. I like to get to class early so I can find the closest seat to the door. But, as I reach my hands out, I feel back after back after back. I do not encounter an empty chair beneath my groping fingers, only cotton and the slick sensation of sweating skin. I am panicked, and desperately want to cry. Finally, the home room teacher interrupts his monologue about locker combinations long enough to tell me there’s a seat in the front I can take. I extend my white cane in front of me and navigate the labyrinth of outstretched feet and backpack straps. The room falls silent as everyone, including the teacher, stares at me. I traverse a row, and get to the front desk. I place my hand on the desk and feel a pad of paper. I move to my right and graze a Styrofoam coffee cup with my middle finger. Nobody helps me, and I feel tears pricking at my eye lids. All I want to do is sit down. I catch my foot in a desk leg and almost fall. This finally spurs the homeroom teacher into action, and he taps a desk a few rows over from where I stand. **** Though the incident occurred eleven years ago, it has remained a vivid memory. If it had happened now, I would have handled things differently. But I was not the person then that I am today. When I walked through the halls of my high school, I tried to keep my cane as close to my body as I could. Though the way a cane is useful to a person who is blind is by tapping it, in an arc, in front of the body, I never did this. Though my school teemed with students (my graduating class was just over seven hundred and fifty), this was not the real reason for my reluctance to follow proper mobility protocol. I didn’t want to be seen, and I did not want to be heard tapping my way merrily to math class. Almost on a weekly basis in school, I’d hear the whispered or shouted name I dreaded: Blind girl. Everyone else, it felt like, got the luxury of being talked about behind their back. I was never afforded such courtesies. I was always on display, always a subject of conversation, as students frantically dodged around my long cane or scurried away from the swing of my massive backpack, crammed to bursting with heavy Braille books. “Blind girl” became my name from all those kids who didn’t sit beside me in class. “Blind girl” also became like my shadow, following me where ever I went. I didn’t like this “blind girl” and I did not want to be her. I resented the title. I had a slight bit of vision I could use to detect colors and land marks. When I explained it to people, I would always, adamantly, title myself “visually impaired”. I didn’t have anywhere near enough sight to be considered a person with normal vision, but I also staunchly denied just how little I could see. I refused to accept “blind” as a term, mostly because of how often I heard it in a derisive manner as I walked the halls. I was clustered in with the boy in the rainbow kilt or the girl with the line of metal rings in her lip; just another freak, who’s only distinguishing feature was what was so clearly “wrong” with them. I have learned that, overall, I was quite lucky in my high school career. Some of my blind peers were mercilessly bullied in school; getting pushed down stairs, having their homework ripped up, and enduring physical assaults. This never happened to me. A few times, if I accidentally hit a passerby with my cane in the hall, I would hear them tell their friends loudly that they wished they could hit me with my own “stick”. Another time, a friend told me he’d seen a group of boys pretend to pull my hair as I walked down the stairs in front of them. But, mainly, it was the constant scrutiny I felt like I was under which drove me crazy. I was visible as I stumbled about. The fact that I carried with me a four foot long pole was not lost on anyone. In class, I was able to fold up my cane and stow it on the ground. The clanging of my ten pound Braille machine in math class or the soft clatter of my note takers keys was forgotten by my classmates after a while; it was just what I did. The people in my classes got used to my blindness, mostly because it became secondary to my personality. I was one of those obnoxious people who always raised her hand in class. Most of the time, I knew the answers to the questions being asked. I volunteered to read aloud in English and I relished the opportunity for extra credit debate performances in History. If there was a classroom activity taking place, I was involved. I tried to excel academically, because I felt like it would make my blindness fade more into the background. I wanted, more than anything, for people to equate my name with friendliness, creativity, and intelligence, rather than first thinking of my ocular ineptitude. So, in the classroom, I tried to stand out, while in the jungles of passing periods I tried like hell to blend in. The classroom was my safe haven. It was where I could shine and show everyone, especially myself, that there was more to me than strangers expected. The only times I felt conspicuous were when the elephant called Blindness stomped his way into the room. I wish I could have known, in advance, the days we’d discuss Helen Keller and her struggles in History so I could figure out how to fake the flu. It also may have made my life easier to be absent for the entire Oedipus Rex unit in ninth grade and the many discussions we had about the blindness motif so commonly used in literature. The day my Honors English teacher asked me if I felt like I had more “vision” because I had no sight was the only day I think I have wondered if humiliation was a reasonable excuse for jumping out a window. The fact of the matter is that I was not able to understand how people could not look at me and think that my blindness made me a freak. Because I couldn’t quite accept the fact that it didn’t. In the halls at school, people doubtless stopped and stared. I know for a fact they even commented on the fact I couldn’t see. But, looking back, I was really just a self-obsessed teenager in a sea of many other self-obsessed teenagers. Most of them probably noticed my shiny metal Braille machine or my fluorescent red-tipped cane, but these things really didn’t impact their lives. They may have been curious or uncertain how to approach me, but probably very few of them thought much more about me and my little life. Me being blind was much more of an issue to me than it ever was to any of them. *** My guide dog and I glide down the hallway. As we pass by my colleague’s cubicles, they call out soft greetings to us. I respond to them, and concentrate on the route we’re taking. The staccato rhythm of his toenails on the linoleum accompanied by the chorus of his collar tags jingling is the perfect soundtrack to my contemplations of distance traveled and steps remaining in our journey. I direct my dog right at the reception desk, left at the end of the hall, and then straight into the conference room. As I open the door, I feel relieved that we have made it on time. I can feel them staring. I know their eyes are taking me in. They might be admiring my charcoal blazer or the new black dress that skims my knees. They might see the shadow of coral lining my lips, or covet the sleek Mac beneath my arm. They might even notice how my eyes don’t really focus on anything in particular. My husband told me before I left for work that I looked beautiful, and I believe him. “Excuse me,” I say. “Could anyone direct me to an empty seat?” From across the room, a woman calls to me. My guide dog skirts the table and brings me to the chair. The woman and I chat softly together about work, the weather, the difficulty she encountered finding the office building. “I’m just wondering,” she says. “I know some people prefer to be called sight challenged or visually impaired. What do you like?” “Blind is fine. It’s the most accurate description of my sight,” I say with a small smile. “But mostly I just like to be called Caitlin.”

Holiday Hiatus

Hello everyone!

We hope your holiday season has been wonderful so far. Disability in Kidlit will be taking a brief two-week hiatus beginning today, but we’ll be back on January 10, 2014 with more excellent posts.

As always, if you’re interested in writing a post or a review, please see our submission guidelines. We’d love to hear from you!

Have a happy New Year! We’ll see you on the other side.

Corinne, Kayla, Kody