I'm in the middle of a full-blown spaz-attack, and I don't care. I don't care at all. At home I always try to act normal, and spaz-attacks definitely aren't normal. Here, people understand. They know a spaz-attack signals that I'm
excited. They're excited too, so they squeal with me; some even spaz on purpose, if you can call that spazzing . . .
An unforgettable coming-of-age novel about what it's like to live with a physical disability
It's the summer of 1970. Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever.
Henry Holt published Harriet McBryde Johnson's adult memoir, Too Late to Die Young, in April 2005. Ms. Johnson has been featured in The New York Times Magazine and has been an activist for disability rights for many years.
About the Author
Harriet McBryde Johnson has been a lawyer in Charleston, South Carolina, since 1985. Her solo practice emphasizes benefits and civil rights claims for poor and working people with disabilities. She is the author of Too Late to Die Young.
Read an Excerpt
Accidents of Nature
By Johnson, Harriet McBryde
Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)Copyright © 2006 Johnson, Harriet McBryde
All right reserved.
My shoulders are sticky with my father's sweat where I took his arm to get out of the station wagon. We're met by a tall brunette in bermuda shorts. "I'm Sue, the senior counselor in Jean's cabin. Carole's around here somewhere."
"Pleased to meet you." My parents speak in unison so perfect that someone really ought in some manner to express amusement. But instead Sue and Dad shake hands and my mother accepts a clip board loaded with forms, while I sit, silent, beside the car. The sun beats down on my head.
"Has Jean ever spent a night away from home?"
My Dad says, "No."
"Well," Mom adds, "only with us with her, on family trips and whatnot." She's working on the forms on the hood of our station wagon. Inside my sister Cindy is sprawled across the back seat.
Sue says, "We have a lot of first-time campers this time. Jean'll fit right in."
Mom's smile is a little rigid. "Well, I know she will. She always does. You know, she's in public high school. Going to graduate next year."
"With honors, I might add. Beta Club. Key Club. I-don't-know-what-all Club. And perfect attendance for seven years in a row--" Dad's habitual grin goes up a wide notch.
"At any rate," Mom says, "we thought it would be good forher to have an experience away from home. Away from us too. She needs to find out she can survive without us. She's never let cerebral palsy hold her back."
I shrug. I feel no need to prove anything, but if this is what my parents want, I can indulge them. While I'm at camp, my family will be sleeping in a tent on the beach.
"I know she'll have a great time. You're not nervous, are you?"
It takes me by surprise, her turning from my parents to me without warning, and I'm not ready to talk. I'm struggling to get words out, and I realize I don't even know what words I'm going for. There's no way out when it gets like this.
Sue jumps back in. "Hey, that's a really cute outfit." It's a culotte suit in a funny print -- the words NO NO NO NO NO repeated all over.
Dad's still grinning and I know what's coming. "Like I told her this morning: just look at those clothes to remember what to tell the boys at camp!" He rubs my head the same way he rubbed it this morning when he made the same joke, the same way he always rubs his best dog. He always makes dumb jokes, and I always laugh. I laugh now, but I hope the talking will end soon and they'll get me out of the sun.
My mother hands Sue the clip board. "Did I do everything right?"
Sue shows them where to sign. They sign. Along with the intake forms, I'm handed over in the sandy parking area. Mom bends down. I tilt my head up for a kiss that smells like face powder and feels like lip stick. Dad gives me a noisy smack on the forehead and a friendly slap on the back. "Now try to behave yourself, girl. Do us proud."
I wonder if it will be this hot the whole time.
That's it. I should have a spaz attack, but I don't. There should be a strong emotion of some kind, but there isn't. Ever since that August in 1970, I've pressed hard to squeeze something out of my memory, but I always find it dry. I have to accept it. When I lean back to receive good-bye kisses from my mother and father, all I feel is hot.
Copyright 2006 Harriet McBryde Johnson
This text is from an uncorrected proof.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
I really enjoyed this ¿ Sara, the agitator who helps Jean start questioning is unabashed in her disgust with the way she and the other campers are treated ¿ like theirs is a burden always, and they can never have `good¿ lives. She may be a bit much, but I really felt like my own eyes were opened while reading this, though the only historical aspects are the mentions of telethons and the fact that they cannot expect to go to college ¿ physical disability is equal to mental disability to the `normals¿ in this book.
There was a lot to think about in this book. I don't think it was as powerful as "Stuck in Neutral", but it still was interesting and makes you examine how you view people who have disabilities.
This book would make an outstanding read-aloud for a high school English or health class. Although the experience of a physical disability may be difficult for many able-bodied people to relate to, the inner experiences and discoveries of the book's main character, Jean, are likely be compelling and profoundly inspirational for any reader.
Having always prided herself on blending in with "normal" people despite her cerebral palsy, seventeen-year-old Jean begins to question her role in the world while attending a summer camp for children with disabilities.
17 year old Jean, who has Cerebral Palsy, goes to 'crip camp' (Camp Courage) for the first time and meets other disabled youth for the first time. Over the course of the ten day camp she meets new friends, questions long-held beliefs, and sees her life in a whole new way-- though not in an uplifting, Jerry Lewis Telethon sort of way. This is a great book for high school students who have not had a lot of exposure to people their own age who are disabled. Author Harriet McBryde Johnson offers us a view "normal" people rarely get to see-- that of the person sitting in the wheelchair who is often pitied.
Having always prided herself on blending in with ¿normal¿ people despite her cerebral palsy, seventeen-year-old Jean begins to question her role in the world while attending a summer camp for children with disabilities.Thought-provoking story that challenges the reader¿s prejudices and assumptions about people with disabilities. Written by real-life advocate, Harriet McBryde Johnson, who herself attended cross-disability summer camps as a teenager. A funny, angry, iconoclastic camp story not just for young adults. The only caveat I have is that the publishers have not made it clear that the time is the 1970s. References to MRs (mentally retarded people) and a tendency to condescend towards the African American campers will seem egregious to the modern-day reader if not forewarned.The title comes from Eleanor Roosevelt: ¿Beautiful young people are accidents of nature, But beautiful old people are works of art¿7.5 Hopefully this book will pique your curiosity about the author who was also a, lawyer, public speaker, disability rights activist, famous for (among other things) boycotting the Jerry Lewis Muscular Dystrophy telethons.
"Father " she purred. My moms from bloodclan
Jean feels fantastic about her place in the world. Why shouldn¿t she? She¿s seventeen, an honor student at Crosstown High School, her friends are great, and her family supports all of her dreams. But this summer, Jean spreads her wings, away from the cocoon of her parents, friends, and her small town, and spends time at Camp Courage--¿Crip Camp,¿ as the campers sarcastically refer to it--a camp for children with physical and mental disabilities, and she finds her confidence is shaken. For the first time, Jean must admit that, because of her cerebral palsy, she is different from the other kids at her high school.
Set in 1970 with an epilogue to bring the reader into the year 2000, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent overview of how kids with a range of challenges--cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, autism, asthma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy--feel condescended to by the world. For example, to make sure no one feels bad at the camp carnival, everyone
wins a prize at the games. Jean and her friend Sara refuse to play, on the basis that there is no challenge in playing a game if one is certain to win. The games then become a metaphor for Crip life, as Jean muses:
"When the games are rigged, does it make everyone a winner--or no one? ¿ I believe in competition. The program seems to be that handicapped people aren¿t up to it; we can only pretend to be winners. I don¿t want to pretend. I want to achieve, really achieve. Or I will take my disappointments just like anyone else."
Johnson captures the pain, anger, and fear of being shunned by the ¿normal¿ world in the character of Sara, and explores the naiveté of thinking that no one notices one¿s differences in the character of Jean. Weaving the two together through the bond of friendship, Johnson creates a captivating, educational storyline.
The overwhelming negative of this book--and the reason I am awarding four stars instead of five--is the epilogue. Without giving away the ending, I¿ll say that I¿m not sure what the author was thinking when she wrote this epilogue; I can think of no other way to describe it but as frustrating, aggravating, and absolutely annoying. Ms. Johnson, what were you thinking?
Still, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent book, overall, and well worth a reader¿s time; I recommend it with a strong four stars.
This book, Accidents of Nature, by Harriet McBryde Johnson, shows the feelings,emotions, and thoughts of a young girl. But it is not just any ordinary girl that got me interested in this book, this book shows the life of a girl, named Jean, who is dealing with a terrible illness and is crippled. It is interesting to read about how a different mind looks at life, she has to constantly worry about having a spazz attack, and she constantly questions, ¿Am I just like everyone else.¿ It is definitely something that I would have never imagined reading, a book that talks about illnesses. This book is about a girl, named Jean, and she is dealing with this illness that is pretty much unfixable. Her parents thought it would be a good idea to send her to a camp that lets kids who have illnesses also, spend time with each other. Her parents want her to be at a completely safe environment, and that is exactly what she got, but it was kicked up a notch. She is under the complete rule of the Camp Counselor Mr. Bob, and he treats them all like babies. He always says, ¿Everyone is a winner,¿ and, ¿Everyone is a star.¿ After a while Jean starts to feel that he thinks that they can¿t handle a challenge or they can¿t do things for themselves. So now they must find a way to get the message to Mr. Bob. This book really impacted me because it gives me an idea of what it is like to be someone like her. You can almost see everything she sees with her descriptions. You can almost tell the emotions that she is feeling. The author makes the story very realistic, with all her descriptions of how the characters feel, and it makes it very real because she has an illness herself. I liked the idea of how the kids say, ¿ You¿ll never walk alone,¿ it reminds me that we are never alone. When she thinks, ¿ My panicking eyes jumped back to Sara,¿ you get an idea of how she feels. ¿People stop and stare, They don¿t bother me, for there is nowhere in the world, where I¿d rather be,¿ this poem makes a message for all the people at Camp Courage and could be for everyone in the world, everyone is the same. I really liked the plot in the story because it showed something I have never read before, kids trying to change the way this system works. They want things at Camp Courage to change so everyone will forever be the same. No one will ever be treated differently again. This book has a very good message for everyone in the world. If you want to find out what that message is, you will have to read the book. This book definitely deserves 5 stars.
Accidents of Nature The novel Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson is about a couple of young teenagers growing up with Cerebral Palsy. The book makes you see how people with disabilities are so dependent on others that it gets frustrating for some and yet others with disabilities seem to cope and move on with their lives. The book is about Jean who has Cerebral Palsy. Jean¿s parent¿s decided to put her in a summer camp ¿ Camp Courage, with other children who are just a crippled or even more than she is. Jean always attended a school in the regular school system and she didn¿t know what to expect going to this camp. At the camp Jean makes friends with Sara who is very outspoken. Despite the children being handicapped they decide to let others know they can still survive the normal world. Accidents of Nature makes you really think how being disabled can affect you mentally as well as physically and that alone gives you many obstacles and challenges in life.The book held my interest because you didn¿t know what was going to happen next. The 3 specific events were when Jean first experienced camp life. The second was when the children knew the counselors used inappropriate behavior but could not express their feelings and finally the Talent Show event. The author brought a lot of herself into the characters. The plot of the story was that people with a handicap are human too.
Jean feels fantastic about her place in the world. Why shouldn¿t she? She¿s seventeen, an honor student at Crosstown High School, her friends are great, and her family supports all of her dreams. But this summer, Jean spreads her wings, away from the cocoon of her parents, friends, and her small town, and spends time at Camp Courage--¿Crip Camp,¿ as the campers sarcastically refer to it--a camp for children with physical and mental disabilities, and she finds her confidence is shaken. For the first time, Jean must admit that, because of her cerebral palsy, she is different from the other kids at her high school. Set in 1970 with an epilogue to bring the reader into the year 2000, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent overview of how kids with a range of challenges--cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, autism, asthma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy--feel condescended to by the world. For example, to make sure no one feels bad at the camp carnival, everyone wins a prize at the games. Jean and her friend Sara refuse to play, on the basis that there is no challenge in playing a game if one is certain to win. The games then become a metaphor for Crip life, as Jean muses: 'When the games are rigged, does it make everyone a winner--or no one? ¿ I believe in competition. The program seems to be that handicapped people aren¿t up to it we can only pretend to be winners. I don¿t want to pretend. I want to achieve, really achieve. Or I will take my disappointments just like anyone else.' Johnson captures the pain, anger, and fear of being shunned by the ¿normal¿ world in the character of Sara, and explores the naiveté of thinking that no one notices one¿s differences in the character of Jean. Weaving the two together through the bond of friendship, Johnson creates a captivating, educational storyline. The overwhelming negative of this book--and the reason I am awarding four stars instead of five--is the epilogue. Without giving away the ending, I¿ll say that I¿m not sure what the author was thinking when she wrote this epilogue I can think of no other way to describe it but as frustrating, aggravating, and absolutely annoying. Ms. Johnson, what were you thinking? Still, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent book, overall, and well worth a reader¿s time I recommend it with a strong four stars. **Reviewed by: Mechele R. Dillard
¿Accidents of Nature¿ Harriet McBryde Johnson Henry Hole & Co. New York Review by Taylor and Michael Bailey It is not easy to place ¿Accidents of Nature¿ into a neat category. Is it a novel for young adults? A treatise on disability culture? Or, simply, a well-crafted story of how one woman learns that, by accepting others, she comes to accept herself? The basic tale is simple. Jean, a 17-year-old woman with Cerebral Palsy, has always attended school with ¿normal¿ classmates. Her protective family has done everything possible to ignore Jean¿s differences and provide her with all the trappings of life without a disability. Jean confronts some very real truths about herself, her disability, and her connection to other people with disabilities when she faces a week of summer camp. The typically named ¿Camp Courage¿ caters entirely to people with disabilities and it is they she must deal with during her week away from family, home and her regular circle of ¿friends.¿ We read this book with care. Partly because it is a good read and partly because our daughter/sister is 18-years-old and is a person with Down syndrome. Like the character, Jean, from the book, she has always been in ¿regular¿ classrooms and had school friends with no disabilities. What we have learned is that her friendships only go so far. Her ¿friends,¿ like Jean¿s, only pursue her, or tolerate her, within the bounds of school. Although no one is actually mean to her, it is clear to everyone that she is different and that there are limits on how much time and energy her classmates are willing to devote. And, like Jean, she has learned a lot about herself by going to a place called Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, which, like the fictional ¿Camp Courage¿ is for people with disabilities only. Jean has been exposed to politically correct people and circumstance. So she is quite shocked when she meets Sara. Sara calls the camp ¿Crip Camp¿ and promptly labels Jean as ¿Spazzo.¿ Jean is quite distressed by these characterizations and her fellow campers whose facial deformities, speech, lack of coordination and odd behavior shock and, at the same time, intrigue her. Throughout her week at Crip Camp Jean is exposed to ¿the world according to Sara.¿ Sara ridicules the notion of charity, the pomposity of the camps sponsors and the whole culture of ¿do-gooders.¿ Sara revels in her disability. She also manages to get poor Jean into a lot of hot water with her comments and misbehavior. As the week moves along Jean comes to see more and more that Sara¿s seemingly mocking and tasteless behavior carries with it a seed of truth that no one has every expressed before in her presence. It becomes clear to Jean that, like it or not, Sara is telling the truth and that she, Jean, has a mysterious connection with all the other campers that regular school, determined parents and a blind eye cannot erase. Jean finds, at camp, a window on a whole new view of life that makes her happier and sadder, wiser and more curious and, mostly, more at peace with herself and the truth of her place in the universe. As our family member moves into the world of young adulthood we see her experiencing some of the same things as Jean. To she and her pals with Down syndrome they are the ¿Downers.¿ They like the ¿Down syndrome girls supper club¿ and other disabled-only shenanigans they cook up. She moves about quite skillfully in the world of the temporarily able-bodied but finds her real friends, the people who understand, the people she can be goofy with, among her peers with disabilities. This book is not anti-inclusion. Quite the opposite. Jean learns that her life in the ¿real world¿ will never be real if it is based on a paradigm of rigid segregation from people like herself, or if she is only and always treated as some kind of exhibit that needs to be treated courteously but is never afforded a real place in the human family. We were struck by what a well-established charact