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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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Advance praise for Disabling Characters


“In Disabling Characters, Patricia A. Dunn brings together the fields of disability studies and young adult literature, in ways that push both in new and exciting directions. Her thoughtful analysis of YA texts, through a disability studies-influenced lens, will push scholars, teachers, and students to think about YA, indeed all cultural artifacts, in challenging ways. While reading, I found myself looking at books I’ve read many times in the past, in ways I had never before considered. The questions Dunn poses about her selected titles will make readers think not only about those particular books, but about how we treat all texts in our classrooms. How we, as a society, view people with disabilities/disabled people, and how society itself plays a role in disabling individuals, are issues that need to be examined. Dunn provides a clear, comprehensive way of doing just that.

This is a welcome and vital addition to the academic conversation, but an even more powerful addition to pedagogy. Theory and practice are woven together in expert fashion, with an eye toward how teachers and students can talk about texts and characters. I have long admired Dunn’s work, and this is the book that only she could have written. I see Disabling Characters opening up thoughtful, fruitful discussions about texts in classrooms at all levels. Dunn begins by positing that ‘the status quo is not acceptable,’ and then proceeds to change it in significant ways. I know I will be a better teacher...

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