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Diabetics in YA Fiction for National Diabetes Month

2012 November 21
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November is National Diabetes Month, and as someone who has been a Type I diabetic for nearly all of her life, I have found it hard to find myself in too many literary characters. Growing up I had only one positive role model I could turn to, and that was Stacey McGill in Ann M. Martin’s Baby-sitters Club series. Even though The BSC is being reissued these days, it’s really geared for younger audiences more than teens.

I preview the new books that come into my library and I haven’t noticed anything with a diabetic character for a while. That doesn’t mean there aren’t some out there, though, so I did an Amazon search just to see what I could find in the hopes that diabetic teens today have more luck finding themselves in their literature than I did — especially considering that diabetes is an epidemic, and more and more children and teens are being diagnosed these days.

I started with an easy search. Amazon → Books → Teens → Diabetes got me 93 results once I excluded the out of stock titles. There were several picture books specifically aimed at helping younger children deal with the disease. Many of the nonfiction books were geared for teens, but I was looking for literature and not a how-to guide to living with the disease (though those are valuable!). I narrowed things down by adding the word “fiction” to my search. That got me 25 results, most of which were still picture books with a few nonfiction titles still peppered in there. I found that many of these books were only pamphlets, one was actually for adults, a few were for Kindle only, and several had no graphic of the cover to look at and were also fifteen or more years old.

In 2004 I created a list of books for kids who had been recently diagnosed with diabetes and their parents, and I am saddened to see that there are no new teen titles to be found since that time. Several older ones have been rereleased with new covers and updated titles, but this is hardly adequate. Here are the titles from my findings that made it through my criteria for this list: they have diabetic characters, are available to purchase, and should appeal to teens.

Sweetblood by Pete Hautman
Re-released August 2010 in paperback and for Kindle. Originally published in 2003.
This book is about a diabetic girl named Lucy who theorizes that before the discovery of insulin, diabetics were “vampires.” As she spends more time on the Internet (in the Transylvania chat room, natch) and possibly hanging out with a real vampire, she stops taking care of her diabetes with costly results. The 2010 release has a much more appealing cover than the original, and I think the gothic/vampire elements are likely to draw in even non-diabetics.

Last Dance by Lurlene McDaniel
Re-published in 2008. According to the Amazon reviews this was originally released as When Dreams Shatter in the mid-1980s.
A 14-year-old ballerina is diagnosed with diabetes, which she understandably finds hard to deal with. Once she meets a soccer player with diabetes, though, she realizes that having diabetes isn’t the end of her life and is able to cope with her diagnosis.

Between a Rock and a Hard Place by Alden R. Carter
Published in 1995.
This is the story of two young brothers stuck in the Montana wilderness with only their wits to help them survive after their equipment is lost. The extra tricky part? One of them is a diabetic. Alas, this is out of print and is the lone title here that is only available via Amazon Marketplace, and that’s because it’s the only one that I think would be appealing to boys. You know, boys get diabetes, too.

All the Days of Her Life (One Last Wish), also by Lurlene McDaniel
Originally published in 1995 and re-released on the Kindle only in 2010.
A diabetic girl out of control almost dies because she does what every teen diabetic I have ever known (including me) does: tries to fit in by ignoring her diabetes. Sadly, this is part of a series and from the reviews you might need to read the others to really find out what happened before and how things end with the romance, but the gist of things is that we have a diabetic that other diabetics can relate to.

Now, I admit that there may be young adult books out there with diabetic characters that don’t show up in a quickly-executed Amazon search because for whatever reason “diabetes” isn’t used as a subject keyword. If you know of any other than these I’d like to see them in the comments! Otherwise…

Toni Morrison once said, “If there is a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” Well, after reading this, I bet you can guess what I’m doing for NaNoWriMo this year (and if you don’t know what that is, read yesterday’s blog!)

– Carla Land

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3 Responses
  1. November 21, 2012

    I’m not diabetic, but when I was a kid I loved Willo Davis Roberts’s SUGAR ISN’T EVERYTHING about a tween girl who gets diagnosed with Type I diabetes and learns to deal with it and take care of herself. It’s out of print now and I’m sure it was didactic and would certainly be out of date if it was still in print today, but I read it over and over again!

  2. Anne permalink
    November 21, 2012

    Being a Type I Diabetic in the 70s was no picnic, and finding any characters who were was near impossible. I’m happy you’re finding some, repeat, some characters, including Lucy in Sweetblood. I must have read the one book my public library had back then, which was horrifically titled Why Me? about 70 times. Craziness. None of us are authors? I find that hard to believe! Thanks for the post, Carla.

  3. Molly Wetta permalink
    November 26, 2012

    As much as I loved Stacey from the BSC as a kid, there is obviously a need for more diabetic characters in fiction! Good luck with your Nano project, Carla!

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