Johnson, H. M. (2006). Accidents of Nature. New York: Holt.
The first book I want to highlight is Accidents of Nature by Harriett McBryde Johnson. Set in North Carolina in the 1970’s, the novel follows Jean, a 17 year old girl with cerebral palsy. Jean attends Camp Courage, a summer camp for teens with disabilities and has her world turned upside down. For the first time in her life, she is surrounded by others with various disabilities. She has spent most of her life completely surrounded by ‘norms.’ She lives in a ‘normal’ family and goes to ‘normal school’ and has spent her whole life trying to fit in as best she can. At camp she meets Sara, an outspoken young radical with muscular dystrophy, who challenges the way she sees herself and the world. Although the camp is only 10 days long, Jean leaves a different person than she entered. Accidents of Nature will challenge the reader in the same way and you will not put this book down unaltered. I cannot recommend this Young Adult novel highly enough.
My only disappointment in reading this book is that there are so few books like it. It has helped me realize why I have been so dissatisfied with so many other books focused on disability. There are many well-meaning and well-written books about characters with a disability, but they don’t ring true. Not only is Accidents of Nature a joy to read, there is not a false note in the book. If you are looking for a feel-good, inspirational story about a poor unfortunate disabled child who overcomes adversity to fit in in the world, look elsewhere. This is not always a comfortable book. Although it is filled with hope, warmth, humour, and pathos, it is also filled with anger and challenge. You will not read another book like it.