Literature should be a place where everyone can see themselves represented. While more and more authors are making a conscious effort to make their books more inclusive of people from all walks of life, there seems to still be a dearth of authentic disability and chronic illness representation. And reading books with positive representations of illness can foster a more sympathetic society. Even if you’ve never had experience or known anyone with a chronic illness, I hope you choose to pick up at least a few of these books.
It’s so important to read about experiences outside of your own to foster empathy and be better human beings. And especially if you’re new to reading, YA fiction can be a great place to start your journey!
Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank
This novel-in-verse follows the unfolding friendship between two very different teenage girls who share a hospital room and an illness.
Chess, the narrator, is sick, but with what exactly, she isn’t sure. And to make matters worse, she must share a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. Where Chess is polite, Shannon is rude. Where Chess tolerates pain silently, Shannon screams bloody murder. Where Chess seems to be getting slowly better, Shannon seems to be getting worse. How these teenagers become friends, helping each other come to terms with their illness, makes for a dramatic and deeply moving read.
Breathe and Count Back from Ten by Natalia Sylvester
In this gorgeously written and authentic novel, Verónica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, auditions to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park in the summer before her senior year, all while figuring out her first real boyfriend and how to feel safe in her own body.
Verónica has had many surgeries to manage her disability. The best form of rehabilitation is swimming, so she spends hours in the pool, not just to strengthen her body. Her Florida town is home to “Mermaid Cove”, a kitschy underwater attraction where professional mermaids perform in giant tanks, and Verónica wants to audition. But her conservative Peruvian parents would never go for it. And they definitely would never let her be with Alex, her cute new neighbor.
She decides it’s time to seize control of her life, but her plans come crashing down when she learns her parents have been hiding the truth from her — the truth about her own body.
The Memory Book by Lara Avery
Through a mix of heartfelt journal entries, mementos, and guest posts from friends and family, readers will fall in love with Sammie, a brave and remarkable girl who learns to live and love life fully, even though it’s not the life she planned.
Sammie McCoy is a girl with a plan: graduate at the top of her class and get out of her small town as soon as possible. Nothing will stand in her way-not even the rare genetic disorder the doctors say will slowly steal her memories and then her health.
So the memory book is born: a journal written to Sammie’s future self. It’s where she’ll record every perfect detail of her first date with longtime crush Stuart, and where she’ll admit how much she’s missed her childhood friend Cooper. The memory book will ensure Sammie never forgets the most important parts of her life-the people who have broken her heart, and those who have mended it. If Sammie’s going to die, she’s going to die living.
The Moth Girl by Heather Kamins
While Kamins chooses to write about a fictional illness – lepidopsy – she does so to perfectly emulate the otherworldly confusion and uncertainty of being diagnosed with a disease you have no context for.
Anna is a regular teenage girl. She runs track with her best friend, gets good grades, and sometimes drinks beer at parties. But one day at track practice, Anna falls unconscious . . . but instead of falling down, she falls up, defying gravity in the disturbing first symptom of a mysterious disease. This begins a series of trips to the hospital that soon become Anna’s norm. She’s diagnosed with lepidopsy: a rare illness that causes symptoms reminiscent of moths: floating, attraction to light, a craving for sugar, and for an unlucky few, more dangerous physical manifestations.
Anna’s world is turned upside down, and as she learns to cope with her illness, she finds herself drifting further and further away from her former life. Her friends don’t seem to understand, running track is out of the question, and the other kids at the disease clinic she attends once a week are a cruel reminder that things will never be the same.
When My Heart Joins The Thousand by A. J. Steiger
A heartbreaking debut YA romance featuring a neuroatypical girl with a tragic history and the chronically ill boy trying to break the vault encasing her heart.
Alvie Fitz doesn’t fit in, and she doesn’t care. She’s spent years swallowing meds and bad advice from doctors and social workers. Adjust, adapt. Pretend to be normal. It sounds so easy. If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any major mishaps, she’ll be legally emancipated. Free. But if she fails, she’ll become a ward of the state and be sent back to the group home.
All she wants is to be left alone to spend time with her friend, Chance, the one-winged hawk at the zoo where she works. She can bide her time with him until her emancipation. Humans are overrated anyway. Then she meets Stanley, a boy who might be even stranger than she is — a boy who walks with a cane, who turns up every day with a new injury, and whose body seems as fragile as glass. Without even meaning to, she finds herself getting close to him. But Alvie remembers what happened to the last person she truly cared about. if she can find the strength to face the enemy inside her, maybe she’ll have a chance at happiness after all.
Love From A to Z by S. K. Ali
A marvel: something you find amazing. Even ordinary-amazing. Like potatoes — because they make French fries happen. Like the perfect fries Adam and his mom used to make together.
An oddity: whatever gives you pause. Like the fact that there are hateful people in the world. Like Zayneb’s teacher, who won’t stop reminding the class how “bad” Muslims are.
But Zayneb, the only Muslim in class, isn’t bad. She’s angry. When she gets suspended for confronting her teacher, and he begins investigating her activist friends, Zayneb heads to her aunt’s house in Doha, Qatar, for an early start to spring break. Fueled by the guilt of getting her friends in trouble, she resolves to try out a newer, “nicer” version of herself in a place where no one knows her.
Then her path crosses with Adam’s. Since he got diagnosed with multiple sclerosis in November, Adam’s stopped going to classes, intent, instead, on perfecting the making of things. Intent on keeping the memory of his mom alive for his little sister. Adam’s also intent on keeping his diagnosis a secret from his grieving father. Alone, Adam and Zayneb are playing roles for others, keeping their real thoughts locked away in their journals. That is, until a marvel and an oddity occurs…Adam and Zayneb meeting.
There are so many more amazing positive representations of chronic illness in literature. To read more about them, follow along here!