Hello, and welcome, dear readers!
I know I posted just yesterday, but this happened to be on my mind, and with the new year started, I wanted to get back in the habit of blogging on Tuesdays, which seems to work really well for me.
So, please enjoy my first Tuesday post of the year!
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I have seen several blog posts and ads of sorts concerning diverse books lately, and I thought I would add to them. Personally, I do think that we should have diverse books -- diverse characters, settings, ideas; diverse abilities, races, sexualities, and more. While I don't think there is anything wrong with the books we have, depending on the reader what what they're interested in, I think that having a greater variety is certainly not a bad thing, though I also don't think that means we should throw away the stories or formulas we are currently using, either. A truly diverse marketplace will have a perfect book for everyone, building off of new tropes and old, and though that's probably not entirely possible (at least in a small number of years), we can hope for it.
All of these matters are important, but there are a few that are particularly close to my heart, and characters with disabilities or disorders is one of them.
I first thought of writing this post when I began reading a book the other day which features a disabled protagonist, a teenage girl. I will admit that I was a bit skeptical, because I wasn't sure if the character would be good, or if the book would turn into one of those "we've magically erased your disability, and now you're amazing" books; for the record, I didn't finish the book, so I have no idea how it ended, though I might pick it back up. I'll admit I was a bit angered at the beginning of the book: the typical scene was set, with the protagonist being the "weird" kid in school because of her disability, a family member who is crazy, and a guy she likes who is a terrible person (which she somehow can't come to terms with; sigh). Pretty typical YA book, unfortunately. But I can say that it was accurate to some degree, at least; in school, I was never considered normal, and kids were mean, often more so than they should have been. That doesn't stop it from being frustrating to read, or unfortunate, however.
But I digress...
So, I continued reading, and was happy to find that the author turned this situation on its head to some degree: loser boy is kicked to the curb when she finds out just how awful he is. I still can't say what the character comes to think of her disability, but I hope that she comes to embrace who she is, because no matter what difficulties we may have, we are all wonderful individuals, and must come to terms with our true selves.
I think this is, whatever flaws there may be (and make no mistake, there will always be flaws, and that is okay, because we can never be perfect), a step in the right direction, however. I hope that we can see more characters with disabilities and disorders -- and not disabilities that make them "weird" or disorders that make them "crazy", but that make them people. People who inspire. People who do their best. People who have something to say, and things to bring to society.
I honestly don't know anyone who is "normal", and so it frustrates me that so many characters are portrayed as "normal". I'm not saying this is a bad thing entirely, because part of the enjoyment of reading can be escapism, and in escapism we often want things to be "perfect" because reality isn't; this is a legitimate desire for said escapism, and plenty of good books have played on this. There isn't anything wrong with that type of story -- but that doesn't mean it's the only type of story. But real people, at least the people I know, are not perfect. They all have something "wrong" with them, be it emotionally, physically, mentally, or spiritually. There are plenty of books that deal with the emotional and spiritual, but not as many the physical or mental.
The people I know would make good characters, and are very diverse. These are the people we see on the street, at work, in the cinema, in our everyday lives. These people are: OCD, ADHD, too fat, too thin, have an eating disorder, have depression, limp, can't sleep at night, are struggling with a breakup, are struggling with a death, can't run, can't walk, have suffered abuse, have a wheelchair, are blind, are autistic, have bad knees, have chronic migraines, have seizures. Everyone has something in one of the categories above that they deal with -- physical, mental, spiritual, emotional -- and that makes them human, and worth writing about.
Being different doesn't make you bad, it merely makes you different. We should embrace who we are to ourselves, who we are to each other. We should try and see from others' perspectives -- not because we have to, but because then we can learn and grow; everyone has something to teach us.
As a person with disabilities, I can say what I would like to see in fiction. It might not be what everyone else wants to see, but it's a start. As I write more, I try to incorporate these things into my writing, because if I want to see it, I know that someone else does, too.
I am not a sword-weilding, gun-slaying, leather-sporting woman. I am more like Fluttershy from My Little Pony than I am like Xena. That doesn't mean I can't do physical activity, because I can, but this type of woman will never ring true for me, because I could never be that person, physically. I want to see more women who use their minds to fight, and more men, too -- the Sherlocks of the world, maybe some of them immobile, maybe some of them needing to move more slowly or examine evidence differently, but people fighting with their intelligence, and not just to solve crimes. I would also like to see more people fighting with their hearts, too. The heart doesn't make a person weak -- in fact, anatomically, at least, we need our hearts in order to live (I know they aren't the same thing, but pretend for a moment, please). Sometimes the heart can do what nothing else can.
I also want to see more characters who embrace their disorders and disabilities in a healthy way. Sometimes we need medication, and sometimes there is nothing we can do, but we all have to be able to embrace who we are. And I want that. I want to see other characters, "normal people" whose stories I still love and need, embrace these characters for everything they are, too.
I would really like to see more characters with mental disorders not being portrayed as "crazy" or "harmful". Anyone can be crazy or harmful, disorder or not. A really good example of this, I think, is the film "Phoebe In Wonderland", where the main character has an emerging disorder, and she has to learn how to deal with it, and her parents have to learn to accept it, and to accept her, too.
One of my favorite heroines, though not necessarily disabled, is Meg Murry from A Wrinkle In Time. Meg is very human, and I love that about her; there are so many wonderful characters already, I can't wait to see what other great characters appear. Meg wears big glasses, isn't pretty, and feels like the perpetual loser in her family. She thinks she's stupid, though she isn't, with scientist parents, an otherworldly little brother, and "normal" twin brothers. She spends quite a bit of the book feeling inadequate, and yet doing what she knows she must anyway. And in the end, when she's facing the seemingly perfect antagonist "IT", which even her special little brother couldn't defeat, she discovers that she has what perfection doesn't have: love.
We can love other people. We can love our characters. We can love imperfection, because perfection, though it can be good, is usually overrated, and in the end we are all imperfect. We shouldn't seek diversified books because we have to, but because we want to; there are amazing stories yet to be told, from every type of person.
Diverse books are good. "Normal" books are good. Every story has something to teach us, and every character does, too -- just like every living person.