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Disabling Characters

Representations of Disability in Young Adult Literature


Patricia A. Dunn

Disabling Characters provides detailed analyses of selected young adult (YA) novels and short stories. It looks at the relative agency of the disabled character, the behavior of the other characters, the environment in which the character must live, the assumptions that seem to be underlying certain scenes, and the extent to which the book challenges or perpetuates an unsatisfactory status quo. Class discussions about disability-themed literature, however well intentioned, have the potential to reinforce harmful myths or stereotypes about disability. In contrast, discussions informed by a critical disability studies perspective can help readers develop more sophisticated views of disability and contribute to a more just and inclusive society. The book examines discussion questions, lesson plans, study guides, and other supplemental materials aimed at students studying these texts, and it suggests more critical questions to pose about these texts and the positive and/or negative work they do, perhaps subliminally, in our culture. This book is a much-needed addition to college classes in YA literature, literary analysis, methods of teaching literature, disability studies, cultural studies, contemporary criticism, special education, and adolescent literacy.
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Chapter 1. Agency, Rebellion, and Challenging the Status Quo: Accidents of Nature and The Acorn People




One of the main features of a disability rights perspective is that it turns the spotlight of critique on society. Instead of focusing on an individual person’s ability to “overcome” an impairment and “fit” into “normal” society, scholars and activists focus on constructed societal barriers that exclude, either deliberately or obliviously, people with disabilities. While many YA novels have sections that critique mainstream society or the occasional rude behavior of several people in that society, Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Accidents of Nature, from start to finish, calls into question society’s views of disability. It is fierce in its challenge to the status quo, and the disabled characters’ rebellion against mainstream society is uncompromising. This novel also handles agency in an unusual way. The disabled characters in many adult and YA novels are acted upon, rather than agents of their own lives. Often it is non-disabled characters who speak up for them, communicate for them, or discover something about themselves because of their interaction with these characters. However, Accidents of Nature foregrounds the characters with disabilities as the clear agents of their own lives and as agents of change. The “norms,” as the non-disabled characters are called, are clearly the secondary characters and are acted upon. This novel has a refreshing in-your-face stance against the status quo, a stance that is rare, intense, and triumphant. ← 19 | 20 →

Accidents of Nature

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