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Sparrows On Wheels by Heidi Janz & A Request

September 28, 2010

From the back cover:

“If there was one word in the English language guaranteed to set Tallia off, it was the word normal. Although she kept her voice determinedly low, its sharp, quick pace clearly betrayed her growing anger. ‘Not normal?! Well, I’ve got news for you, Jo-Anne, this is not a normal school! We’re here because we’re here because we’re crips, and most teachers out there in normal schools would get totally freaked out by us because they don’t think we’re normal.'”

Sparrows on Wheels follows Tallia Taves, an aspiring writer with Cerebral Palsy, and her classmates through their junior high and high school years at the Inglewood School Hospital. Increasing integration and a series of deaths among students with muscular dystrophy cause Inglewood’s population to dwindle. Resentful of continually having to say goodbye, Tallia fiercely opposes the unrelenting drive towards change which threatens to rob her of her friends.

Heidi Janz is a writer/playwright based in Edmonton, Alberta. Her work focuses on exploring the experiences of people with disabilities – particularly youth with disabilities – and making these experiences accessible to larger audiences consisting of both people with disabilities and the temporarily able-bodied (TABs). She has had plays produced for the Edmonton Fringe Theatre Festival and Concrete Theatre. In her “other life,” Heidi is a Sessional Lecturer in English and Disability Studies at the University of Alberta.

Going into Sparrows On Wheels I knew I wouldn’t be able to objectively review it as the author is a close friend of my family’s. But I do want to highlight it because it brought up a flaw in my reading habits:

When was the last time I read a book written by or featuring people with disabilities?

Yes, I read for enjoyment, and often purely for entertainment. But I also read to learn more about people different from myself facing situations different than my own. Looking back on the books I’ve read over the past coupe years, there’s nothing there that adequately answers this question. Sure, I’ve read about a girl with a disability to pay her bills on time, and another frustrated with her lack of vampire-ness and the cool things they can do. But what about someone confined to a wheelchair and their daily frustrations with maneuvering through a culture designed for the Temporary Able-Bodied?

What I appreciated about Sparrows On Wheels was that it was just about a teenage girl, dealing with some things that are typically girly, like wearing the cutest outfit even though the weather might not be warm enough for it. But she also had to deal with things that most teenage girls don’t have to think about, like becoming an expert at planning friends’ memorial services and having to walk her teacher through the process.

So, my question for other readers out there: What books by or featuring people with disabilities do you recommend?

If you want to learn more about this book and why it was written, check out this article by Heidi Janz: Crip-Academic, Disabled-Writer, Sparrow On Wheels And Other Split-Identities: Reflections On The Oxymoronic Aspects Of Writing An Auto/Biographical Novel About Disability

Soundtrack Saturday

9 Comments leave one →
  1. September 28, 2010 11:02 am

    You know.. I can’t think of one book that has someone in it with a disability. I’ll have to think on that one.

  2. September 28, 2010 11:03 am

    Sparrows On Wheels sounds like a pretty moving book. Up until recently, I wouldn’t have been able to say I’d read any books featuring characters with mental or physical disabilities — but now I can!

    Two of my favorite reads this year are about young men with disabilities, actually. I read Rowan The Strange a few months ago — the story of a British teen with schizophrenic tendencies battling inner demons during World War II. It was an unexpectedly heartbreaking story — and one I won’t soon forget.

    And just this morning I wrapped up Marcelo And The Real World — a novel based on 17-year-old Marcelo’s attempts to join “real” life by working at his father’s law firm for a summer. Though he has an Asperger’s-like condition, there’s no real name for what Marcelo goes through . . . just that he doesn’t pick up on social cues, make expressions or understand “the way things are.” It was also very brilliant and a quick read — and has me thinking more about family and faith. I recommend both!

  3. September 28, 2010 11:19 am

    This sounds absolutely incredible! I just finished a book as well with some profound messaging, and it’s really important for us to enjoy life and learn from those around us and our experiences. GREAT write up!

  4. September 28, 2010 12:20 pm

    I do think characters with disabilities should be featured in books more often. I recently read The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin which featured a deaf protagonist.

  5. September 28, 2010 4:10 pm

    One of my favorite books was Jerk, California. The main character suffers from Tourette’s and this was such a huge eye opener for me.

  6. September 29, 2010 5:29 am

    Your review made me realise that I don’t read anough books about people with disabilities either. I don’t think I can think of any titles!

  7. September 29, 2010 9:47 am

    Allison – Let me know if you think of anything!

    Meg – Thanks so much for for those recs. Both those books sound really good, they’re both going to be added to my reading list.

    Coffee and a Book Chick – That’s the great thing about books, right? The ability to not only peek into someone else’s struggles, but also witness overcoming them.

    bermudaonion – Very true. And I don’t think I’ve even read a book about someone who’s deaf before – adding that one to my list.

    Staci – Thanks for the rec! Adding that one to my list.

    Iris – I know, I’m drawing a complete blank! There’s something not right about that.

  8. September 29, 2010 9:56 am

    Anything but Typical by Nora Raleigh Baskin is a YA book about a boy with autism. Marcelo in the Real World by Francisco X. Stork is very good. I hope you let us know what other books you find. I’m definitely adding Sparrows on Wheels to my TBR list.


  1. Expanding my Reading Horizons: Some Recommendations « alita.reads.

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