Disability in recent Middle Grade and YA Speculative Fiction --a (short) list

In the last few months, I read seven middle grade speculative fiction books in which a major character has a disability.  This is noteworthy, because in the previous seven years I had read only 2 that I reviewed (though it's quite possible there were others that I have forgotten...), and it actually gave me enough books to make a decent, though still short, list of books in which a major protagonist has a disability in recent Middle Grade and Young Adult fantasy.  Please share other books that I have missed! (I'm pretty good on Middle Grade, but not so well read in YA).

Realistic disabilities in fantastical worlds:

For readers younger and older than 12ish:

The Orphan and the Mouse, by Martha Freeman (2014).  A young orphan with a badly burned hand and a mouse become friends, and work together to expose the dark secrets of the orphanage that is their home.

El Deafo, by Cece Bell (2014)  A graphic novel for the younger reader, about a bunny-eared girl who becomes deaf at the age of four, and has to deal with that complication on top of the general complications of being a kid wanting good friends.   Spec. fic. by virtue of the bunny ears.

The Iron Trial, by Holly Black and Cassandra Clare (2014).   The protagonist, attending a school of magic, has a leg that was broken and healed badly, leaving him with a debilitating limp.  This is not the point of the book, but it is convincingly shown as a part of his life that he has to deal with.

Handbook For Dragon Slayers, by Merrie Haskell (2013) Princess Tilda, born with a painful clubfoot, and her friends set off to become dragon slayers.  This was the first fantasy novel to win  the Schneider Family Book Award (Middle Grades) in 2014.

Three I haven't yet reviewed because of not  having gotten to them yet--Little Green Men at the Mercury Inn, by Greg Leitich Smith (2014), in which a main character has a prosthetic leg,  The Night Gardener, by Jonathan Auxier (2014), in which the little brother has a painfully twisted leg, and Dreamer, Wisher, Liar, by Charise Mericle Harper, in which the main character has face blindness.

Also in this category go four that I haven't reviewed, in part (the amount of part varies) because I personally found their portrayals of disability unsatisfying:

Peter Nimble and His Fantastic Eyes, by Jonathan Auxier (2012).   Peter is blind, but has magical eyes.

Fleabrain Loves Franny, by Joanne Rocklin (2014). A flea befriends a girl who's a victim of polio, and takes her on magical adventures (going so far as to fly around the world with her). 

Game World, by Christopher John Farley (2014)   One of the main characters uses a wheelchair.  It must be the most magical wheelchair ever, because he goes over a waterfall and then falls out of a tree in it, with no effects to either chair or self, and with only a little help he traverses jungle and visits sundry fantastical settings that don't present issues of wheelchair accessibility.

The Zoo at the Edge of the World, by Eric Kahn Gale (2014).  The main character in this 19th century historical fantasy set in a zoo in  stutters so severely he can barely communicate with words; he can, however, speak with animals.. 

For readers older than 12ish
(with special thanks to Liviania, whose comments helped make this a longer list!)

Cinder, by Marrisa Marr (2012) and its sequels.  The main character, Cinder, is missing a hand and a leg, replaced with cybernetic prostheses.   In the third book, Cress, a major character is blinded.

The Demon's Lexicon (2009), The Demon's Covenant (2010) and The Demon's Surrender (2011).  Alan, a central character, has a badly damaged leg.

Dragonswood, by Janet Lee Carey (2012)  Tess, the main character, is deaf in one ear as the result of her father's abuse.

The heroine of Bleeding Violet, by Dia Reeves (2010),  must deal with schizophrenia as the icing on the cake of a supernatural bloodbath.

Bone and Jewel Creatures, by Elizabeth Bear.  The feral child at the heart of the story had an amputated hand replaced by one of bone and jewels.

The Drowned Cities, by Paulo Bacigalupi (2012).   Mahlia, the daughter of a Chinese peacekeeper and a Drowned Cities woman, became a despised outcast when the Chinese withdrew and her father left. She escaped into the jungle but lost her hand to one bloodthirsty faction in the process.

There's also Dangerous, by Shannon Hale (2014), in which the main character was born with only one hand.

The next four are taken verbatim from Livinian's comment:

Extraction by Stephanie Diaz has a disabled love interest.

Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis has protagonist Amara, who is mute.

The Insignia Trilogy by S.J. Kincaid has antagonist/love interest Medusa, who is disfigured.

Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly has a disabled mermaid. She's set up to be a main character in the series, but enters late in the book.

Fantastical disabilities in fantastical worlds (all of these are YA):

One thing about talking about "disability" in speculative fiction is that there exists a range of fantastical physical differences that don't fall under the rubric of things people in real life have to deal with.

For instance, having bits of your body be bits of dragon-- Seraphina, by Rachel Hartman (2012), which isn't so bad if it's just scales, but a dragon tail is a serious disability,  and Dragonskeep, by Janet Lee Carey (which I should review someday...) in which main character has a dragon talon in place of a finger.

Or having strange and awful and amazing mutations, as is the case of the characters in Above, by Leah Bobet (2012).

And then there are twists of disability/ability, like instead of a regular human arm, having a hand made of psychic energy as in Ghost Hand, by Ripley Patton (2012). 

{I wondered briefly if being undead, and having to cope with bits of your body falling off, etc., counted as a fantastical disability, but I decided to draw the line so as to exclude zombies, even though a good zombie book can be a powerful exploration of physical difference......}

Further reading--Sage Blackwood was also thinking about disability in MG Fiction--here are her thoughts on the portrayal of characters with disabilities.


  1. Hi Charlotte. I haven't read most of the books on your list, but it looks like, with regard to MG, you found more books unsatisfying than satisfying in their portrayal of disabilities... which has definitely been my experience as well.

    I think there are a number of tropes which inhibit the full development of disabled characters in middle grade fiction. And I blogged about them yesterday, don't know if you saw it... http://sageblackwood.blogspot.com/2014/10/whats-this-disabled-character-doing-in.html

  2. You might like Among Others by Jo Walton. I thought it was really good.

  3. The Lunar Chronicles has disabled characters. Cinder is missing a hand and foot, both of which are replaced by cybernetic parts. A major character is blinded in Cress, the third book.

    Extraction by Stephanie Diaz has a disabled love interest.

    Otherbound by Corinne Duyvis has protagonist Amara, who is mute.

    The Insignia Trilogy by S.J. Kincaid has antagonist/love interest Medusa, who is disfigured.

    Deep Blue by Jennifer Donnelly has a disabled mermaid. She's set up to be a main character in the series, but enters late in the book.

  4. Glad you compiled this list!

  5. Hi! As the author of Otherbound, a minor addition--Amara is mute, yes, but she's one of two main characters. The other main character has a prosthetic leg after losing his foot as a child. (He also has a "fantasy disability" that's interpreted as epilepsy but isn't really.)

    The reason I'm commenting, though, is to point you at Disability in Kidlit: www.disabilityinkidlit.wordpress.com

    This is a website I run with two other YA authors. We keep an extensive list of MG and YA featuring disabled characters on Goodreads, and on the blog itself we discuss disability tropes and review books, all by contributors who are disabled themselves. From the sounds of this post, the site might be right up your alley.



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