I’m seeing more books about characters who have suffered the loss of a limb in the past few years. Despite this, all the characters have learned to cope really well. It makes me really grateful for what I have and makes me have more empathy for those who aren’t as fortunate. I’m seeing more realistic portrayals of characters with disabilities who are strong main characters and not secondary ones, maybe due to the diverse books trend.
It seems that there are a range of different types of books with characters lacking limbs. There are fantasies set in the past, science fiction books set in the future and realistic fiction often related to sports or the arts. And, fairy tale retellings, including two published recently based on Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, one of their less well-known tales.
Crimson Bound by Rosamund Hodge is a lush fantasy that incorporates a number of fairy tales into her story of Rachelle who is forced to fight deadly creatures on behalf of the realm to atone for a reckless act. When the king forces her to guard his bastard son Armand, Rachelle forces Armand to help her hunt for the legendary sword that might save their world. Armand isn’t a warrior like Rachelle because the forestborn that marked him cut off his hands (an homage to Grimm’s Girl Without Arms) but Armand is shrewd and uses his great intelligence to make up for it.
Stephanie Oakes’ The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly (2016 Morris Award Finalist and 2016 Best Fiction for Young Adults Nominee) is unique in that it’s not a fantasy, nor is it SF, it is realistic fiction. The year isn’t specific, but it seems to me to take place in a relatively current time period but since the community is off the grid in a secluded area, it has a more historical feel. This story of one teen’s struggle to break away from the life she’s known in a cult since she was five is gritty and often hard to read but unforgettable. Minnow no longer believes in the Prophet after he announces that God told him to marry her. She dares to attempt to escape but is caught and punished for her disobedience – her hands are cut off. The Prophet even keeps Minnow’s skeletal remains of her hands on his mantel. Minnow tells her story of what happened to her in the cult before and after that horrific event to an FBI psychologist as she’s in juvenile detention on charges of seriously assaulting a mentally unstable young man.
Anyone familiar with Grimm’s story will notice that there are a number of elements that Oakes faithfully includes from Grimm’s original tale, although Oakes adds an even more shocking twist to her story. (For another version of Grimm’s Girl Without Hands, read Philip Pullman’s Fairy Tales From the Brothers Grimm (2012) and his commentary about why he dislikes this tale).
In Joe Abercrombie’s Half a King (2014) published for adults but just as appealing for teens, Prince Yarvi was born a weakling in the eyes of his father the King because he was born with only one good hand. All he has on his other hand is a thumb and part of one finger. His was destined to be in the Ministry as a healer and adviser, not become King and be forced to marry his cousin. Yarvi swears an oath to avenge the death of his father and brother against those who killed them. Since Yarvi can’t hold a sword or swing an ax, he relies on his wits and intelligence to defeat his foes. He gathers a motley crew of companions to help him. It’s full of political intrigues, double-crosses and surprising twists that will keep you reading and guessing what will happen next. The other two books in this Shattered Sea series include Half the World (2014) and Half a War (2015).
The characters in these fantasies mostly rely on cunning to compensate for the loss of a body part. Characters in science fiction books with missing limbs rely on highly sophisticated technology such as prosthetics.
Dan Wells’s upcoming cyber-thriller Bluescreen (February 2016), is set in 2050 where most of the population are connected to the net 24/7 through their djinni, a smart device implanted in their heads. Brilliant gamers and hackers like teenaged Mari and her friends find themselves in over their heads when they discover a virtual drug that plugs into their djinni that supposedly gives them a safe high. Even though Mari lost her arm in a car accident as a child, she has a hi-tech prosthetic arm. This first book in a series is fast-paced, full of diverse characters and is a fascinating glimpse of where we’re might be headed in the near future.
Like Mari, the main character Maisie Danger Brown in Shannon Hale’s science fiction book Dangerous (2014) is missing a hand. When Maisie was in the womb amniotic bands had wrapped around her forearm resulting in her being born without a right hand. This doesn’t stop her from entering a contest to be selected into a NASA-like space program. Her skill with science will be needed when she uncovers a conspiracy that threatens all of the teens involved in the training.
Padma Venkatraman’s A Time to Dance (2014) is about Veda, a teenaged classical dance prodigy in India who loves to dance. After an accident causes her to lose her leg below the knee, she’s devastated. For a girl who’s known for her gracefulness and dexterity in dancing, adjusting to a prosthetic leg is painful and humbling. But Veda refuses to let her disability rob her of her dreams, and she’s determined to learn to dance again.
These books aren’t always easy to read but they are invaluable in allowing me to experience what it is like to live courageously with a disability.
Sharon Rawlins, currently reading Marie Lu’s The Rose Society