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10 Captivating Fiction Books That Portray Disability and Disease

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Reading fiction can be wonderful therapy. It allows you to read about a character’s experience and maybe apply it to your own. Or it can let you escape the real world and delve into a fantasy for awhile.

We decided to find 10 books of fiction that center on a character living with a disease or disability. Perhaps you’re looking for a character to relate to. Perhaps you want to learn how someone going through a health challenge may feel. Either way, these books deserve a spot on your reading list:

1. Deenie by Judy Blume Deenie

Her mother is pushing her to become a model, but 13-year-old Deenie just wants to worry about everyday teenage affairs: school, friends and whether or not the cute boy she has a crush on likes her back. But when Deenie is diagnosed with scoliosis, both her and her mother’s concerns are turned upside down. Deenie must add wearing a body brace for the next four years to the already difficult terrain of young adulthood, and her mother must reevaluate her priorities.

Lottery2. Lottery by Patricia Wood

Perry Crandall has an intellectual disability. The 32-year-old lives with his grandmother, who teaches him important life lessons, such as how to study the dictionary to learn new words, how know who’s trying to take advantage of you and how to play the lottery. After his grandmother passes away, one of Perry’s lottery tickets ends up winning him the $12 million-dollar jackpot. Suddenly, everyone in town wants to be his best friend, and Perry will have to heed his grandmother’s advice more than ever.

3. Blind by Rachel DeWoskin Blind

Emma Sasha Silver is a sophomore in high school when she loses her sight in a freak accident. At first, she cannot eat, get dressed or leave the house alone, and she lashes out at her family, therapist and other blind teens who try to help. Then her classmate turns up dead as the result of an apparent suicide. As Emma works through what happened to her friend, she slowly begins to embrace her disability as a part of her and discovers her life is worth living after all.

Colin Fischer4. Colin Fischer by Ashley Edward Miller and Zach Stentz

Colin Fischer is a 14-year-old high school student living with autism. He’s extremely intelligent but has difficulty making friends, abhors being touched and needs notecards to help him recognize facial expressions. When a gun is discovered in the school cafeteria and Wayne Connelly, the school bully who picks on Colin incessantly, is accused, Colin knows he must set the school administration straight. Readers follow Colin as he works to prove Wayne’s innocence and are given a glimpse into his psyche through his meticulous notebook entries.

5. Jerk, California by Jonathan Friesen Jerk, California

Sam Carter had a difficult childhood. He lost his father, and the man his mother remarried is domineering and cruel. Because of his Tourette syndrome, he lives in a consistent state of involuntary tics, twitches and verbal outbursts. Growing up, he was constantly bullied and never made friends easily. Now a young man, Sam has discovered some truths about his father that prompt him to make a cross-country trip, which he hopes will help him better understand his Tourette syndrome.

Flowers for Algernon6. Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes

After Algernon, a laboratory mouse, undergoes an experimental procedure that causes his intelligence to skyrocket, Charlie Gordon, a middle-aged man with an intellectual disability, is thrilled to be the first human to have the same surgery. At first, Charlie’s intellectual growth mirrors Algernon’s and reaches beyond genius levels, but eventually, Algernon’s intelligence begins to deteriorate, hinting at ominous results for Charlie. This science-fiction story is an important commentary on the morality of how we treat people with mental disabilities.

7. Still Alice by Lisa Genova Still Alice

At age 50, Alice Howland is in the prime of life. She’s happily married, has a wonderful family and is an accomplished university professor of cognitive psychology. Gradually, she notices herself becoming more and more disoriented and forgetful, and is soon diagnosed with early-onset Alzheimer’s. This haunting portrayal of a tragic disease is told from Alice’s point of view, meaning that readers experience her loss of sense of self as she endures it. Still Alice is now a major motion picture starring Julianne Moore, who is nominated for an Academy Award for Best Lead Actress.

Don't Stop the Music8. Don’t Stop the Music by Robert Perske

Joe and Jessica, two teenagers with cerebral palsy, cannot speak and sometimes have difficulty connecting with the world around them — but that doesn’t stop them from delving into solving a car-theft case and eventually becoming key elements in cracking it. Written with warmth and humor, this fast-paced thriller is a refreshing portrayal of people with disabilities having a positive impact on their community.

The Running Dream9. The Running Dream by Wendelin Van Draanen

Jessica’s one and only passion is running. So when she loses her right leg from the knee down following a near-fatal accident, she feels directionless and lost, like she’s surrounded by a heavy fog that won’t fade away. Though hesitant to accept her new life with a prosthetic, she’s slowly encouraged by family, her track teammates and, in particular, her burgeoning friendship with Rosa, who has cerebral palsy.

Owning It10. Owning It: Stories About Teens With Disabilities edited by Donald Gallo

This compilation of short stories centers on teens with a variety of physical, intellectual and emotional disabilities. Subject matter ranges from a student who cannot stop barking at his classmates, to the creative way one teen with cancer survives his hospital room, to what it’s like inside the mind of a high schooler with ADD. Moving, uplifting and well-written, this collection is a necessary read for young adults with disabilities who feel alone or discouraged.

Any good ones we missed? Let us know in the comments.

Check out 10 more books about disease and disability here, and 10 insightful memoirs about what it’s like to live with autism here.

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Originally published: February 17, 2015
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