In the books below—some of 2014’s most exciting YAs featuring characters with disabilities—seven authors remind us there’s no such thing as one universal experience, or a typical hero or heroine. They tell kickass stories about humans falling in and out of love, going on adventures, and saving themselves and the ones they love, while also answering to the challenges presented by their bodies and minds. Add them to your shelves now, before you’re crushed under the weight of all of 2015’s incoming must-reads.
Otherbound, by Corinne Duyvis
Nolan is a teen and partial amputee in contemporary Arizona, dogged by “hallucinations” that turn out to be something far stranger: when he closes his eyes, he joins Amara, a mute servant in the otherworldly Dunelands, inside her head. But doing so leaves his own body dangerously vulnerable, and his increasingly concrete connection to Amara is perceived as a neurological disorder. His and Amara’s traumatic, wondrous bond is just the central piece of Duyvis’s tale, featuring a gorgeously realized fantasy world and system of magic, diverse characters across the board, and a sensitive exploration of the issues raised by Nolan’s unwilling tenancy in Amara’s body and brain.
Say What You Will, by Cammie McGovern
Amy is a fabulously blunt high-school senior with cerebral palsy, trying to learn the art of making friends before she goes to college. Matt is her OCD-afflicted classmate, in over his head from the minute he signs on to be one of Amy’s student aides—or, as she puts it, one of the people her parents are paying to pretend to be her friend. Possessed of a quick mind and an uncooperative body (among other handicaps, she can speak only through a machine), Amy makes it her mission to rehabilitate shy, isolated Matthew. The friendship and tentative romance that blossom between these misfits is warm and funny and just sharp enough.
She Is Not Invisible, by Marcus Sedgwick
With her deeply eccentric seven-year-old brother along as a guide, a blind-from-birth Londoner named Laureth travels to New York to find her missing novelist father. She has a brilliant deductive mind and a knack for making unlikely connections, but little else to go on. Just moving through the world with Laureth, learning how she occupies and navigates it without sight, makes hers a story worth reading. But Sedgwick adds a quiet mystery and extensive ruminations on the nature of the universe.
Far From You, by Tess Sharpe
Sharpe’s protagonist, Sophie, is a recovering pain-pill addict bearing the scars of an accident that left her with a limp and chronic pain—a condition suffered by millions, but nearly absent from YA lit. She’s reeling from the murder of her best friend, Mina, and from the unresolved secret of their deepening relationship. The darker realities of rural life come into focus as the mystery of Mina’s death unfurls. Sophie struggles to hold on to her hard-won sobriety while being framed for a part in the crime she didn’t play.
100 Sideways Miles, by Andrew Smith
Andrew Smith writes some of the richest, realest fiction on the YA shelves, even when he’s writing about nightmarish alternate worlds and grasshopper plagues. 100 Sideways Miles follows confused teen Finn Easton, whose life has been defined by two things: the freak childhood accident that killed his mother and gave him epilepsy, and The Lazarus Door, a controversial novel written by his famous father and featuring a character who shares Finn’s name. Our Finn, who measures time in miles, spends his junior year trying to “get out of the book,” with help from his legendary best friend and his first love, a complicated girl named Julia. But because this is a Smith book, there’s way more to it than that. Finn visits with ghosts, buys condoms, tries to untangle his feelings toward Julia, and finally hits the road, becoming, unexpectedly, a hero.
Blind, by Rachel DeWoskin
Unlike Sedgwick’s heroine, blind from birth, Dewoskin’s 15-year-old Emma loses her sight in an accident. Too early, she learns that the membrane between normal and the end of life as we know it is perilously thin. As she struggles to relearn living, a friend from her pre-accident life commits suicide, putting Emma’s struggles into a new light. Her blindness doesn’t exempt her from the excruciating growing pains of adolescence, it just adds new depth and difficulties to the feeling of being a stranger in a strange land. Dewoskin beautifully evokes Emma’s shifting relationships with her family and with the world.
Althea & Oliver, by Cristina Moracho
Sometimes it feels like there’s a “will they or won’t they” built into every close friendship between a straight boy and a straight girl—and best friends Althea and Oliver have just reached their own event horizon. But while Althea finds herself drawn to Oliver physically, his body is fighting a different battle: he’s afflicted by a condition that makes him shut down and sleep for days, or even weeks. Almost without warning, he goes into hibernation, missing out on big chunks of life and leaving Althea alone. And what happens when he’s sleeping will either bind or break them.