Fiction with Physically Disabled Characters

There are many types of disabilities, both mental and physical. The distinction is not easily made. Often, the two cause each other, blur together or go hand in hand. In this blog post, I want to specifically highlight some books that contain at least one character with a physical disability, who uses at least one mobility aid.

The reason I’m being so specific is exactly because there are so many types of disabilities. I am regularly disappointed by book lists that lump all types of disabilities together, making it difficult for me to find a specific type of book that I can relate to or am interested in reading. I hope to eventually make a book recommendation post for all sorts of conditions, disabilities and groups of symptoms, but for now: let’s start here.


Cover of Ship of Fools with an eerie alien ship


Ship of Fools

I love Ship of Fools, written by Richard Paul Russo. It’s a science-fiction book, mixed with a little horror. Star ship Argonos has been wandering through space for years, with aboard a diverse collection of humans. Some people aboard believe Argonos has always existed, some believe it has departed from a mythical blue planet a long, long time ago. Yet others believed the ship and its inhabitants have been created by God. The ship’s origin isn’t the only thing the people disagree about. There is tension between the ruling members of society and the highest members of the organized, mainstream religion. The strongest tension, however, is between the elite of the ship and the working class.

In the story we follow Bartolomeo. Our protagonist is born to high-class parents, but with birth defects. In the lower class this would have had dire consequences, but because of his status, Bartolomeo is ‘only’ abandoned by his parents. Futuristic technology, like the use of special shoes and an exoskeleton, have made life possible for him. Because of his disabilities he will never be truly accepted in the higher class, but because of his privileges, he will never fit in with the lower class either. The writing never looks down on Bartolomeo’s disabilities or his mobility aids, sometimes it hinders the protagonist and sometimes it gives him an advantage. Yet, the story does not shy away from the discriminatory sides of having a disability.

So what’s the actual story of this book? Star ship Argonos has been wandering, forever, never meeting anyone. But suddenly they pick up a transmission, which leads them to an unknown planet and a seemingly abandoned foreign star ship… This book kept me on the edge of my seat. Even a year later I still remember so many scenes so vividly!


Cover of So Lucky with lettering


So Lucky

So Lucky is written by Nicola Griffith. Although it is fiction, many parts of the story are based on Griffith’s own experiences. We follow Mara, a strong woman dedicated to martial arts and her job as the head of an AIDS foundation. In the span of one week, Mara and her wife separate, and she is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. Life quickly changes: she has to learn and change to deal with her new circumstances. This is such a fantastic book to show how it’s difficult to receive such a diagnosis, to learn to change your life’s routines, and to be confronted with how the world is not designed include and provide for people with disabilities. Mara is an activist and knows how to get a movement going to demand improvement from society. Things get even tenser, though, when Mara learns about a trail of attacked people, all with MS… I won’t spoil more than that!


Cover of Among Others with a girl twirling


Among Others

Jo Walton’s book Among Others is so cozy. I think this one has turned into my new comfort read to pick up during a bad week. Morwenna is a teenager, sent to live in a boarding school and to spend the holidays with her estranged father after something has happened with her mother and sister. The story can be confusing, mysterious and magical, which makes finding out the exact details of Morwenna’s past difficult. That which we do know, is that there was some kind of accident that hurt Morwenna’s leg, leaving her unable to walk without limping or using a cane. Quite some uncomfortable and sad things happen in the story, which begs the question why this is a comfort read. I think, for me personally, it’s the fact that this is a story about a 15-year-old girl, dealing with hardships, and getting through it by being brave and reading books. A lot of books, especially science-fiction books. There is just something so healing about having a tough time together, but also sharing your love for literature. Every time a book unknown to me was mentioned, I had to look it up and place it on my to-read shelf. I wish I’d had this book when I was a teenager, it would have been an even greater comfort then.


What’s next?

I find that fiction with characters with disabilities are incredibly hard to find. I plan to hunt them down and to read some more whenever I can. Next on my radar is Geek Love, written by Katherine Dunn. It’s a horror book about a family who purposefully breeds people with rare oddities. It sounds to me like a book that could offend horribly, but I’ve read so many reviews about how this deals with disabilities and disfigurements in a great way, which has made me curious!

Have you read any good literature with people with disabilities? Do let me know. 🙂

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