It took an unfortunate amount of time for me to find and read enough appropriate books to create a sizeable list here. Now, I have so many, I'm limiting this post to my 4.5+ star reads, instead of the usual 4+ stars! It is my pleasure to present recommended YA books that have central characters with disabilities in them. These disabilities do not include mental illnesses, which are instead represented in this list and in this list.
I hope you'll give these books a read and support their disability representation!
1) Neal Shusterman's Unwind Dystology. You already know how much I love this wild and brilliant YA sci-fi dystopian series about a future America where abortion is outlawed and replaced by the "unwinding" of unwanted teens for body parts. The first book doesn't have disability representation, but in later books, all four of the main characters have something going on. Connor gets a transplanted arm, Levi has permanently stunted growth, Risa is briefly paralyzed but then cured against her will, and my boy Camus has to "relearn" a variety of neuromuscular skills. (5-star average)
2) Marissa Meyer's The Lunar Chronicles. I've mentioned this series here a hundred times already, but somehow, it keeps fitting with my post themes! In this futuristic YA sci-fi retelling of four different fairytales, one of the main characters, Cinder, has various cybernetic parts, including a prosthetic leg, while a different main character, Cress, lives with a much maligned fictional disability. One of the love interests, Wolf, has to deal with the lifelong results of human experimentation, and a different love interest, Thorne, is stricken with a temporary blindness. (There's also a main character, Winter, with hallucinations. This book has it all!) (4.75-star average)
3) Rick Riordan's Olympians Set. In his three sequential and beloved YA contemporary fantasy series that retell Greek and Roman mythology--Percy Jackson and the Olympians, The Heroes of Olympus, and The Trials of Apollo--Riordan wrote almost all of his characters as having ADHD and dyslexia. I'm excited to see the story as a Disney+ TV show, which was announced this week! Hopefully, it'll make up for the bad movie adaptation the way the Series of Unfortunate Events Netflix TV show did for its bad movie, LOL. (4.64-star average)
4) Lois Lowry's The Giver Quartet. This beautiful MG/YA crossover speculative fiction series, one of my oldest favorites, doesn't start with disability representation, but in later books, one of the main characters, Kira (😉), has a congenitally twisted leg. Another central character, Seer, is blinded by a fight. I definitely recommend it. (4.72-star average)
5) Wilder Girls by Rory Power. This fascinating YA sci-fi horror novel had a lot of buzz around its release for a reason. Its focus on feral femininity takes place in a girl's school isolated on an island as each of the girls suffers from recurring or lingering physical weirdness. (Yay body horror!) It's a different kind of disability representation, but I think it's worth including here. (4.5 stars)
6) Girls Like Us by Gail Giles. This beautiful and necessary YA contemporary novel reveals the truths of two cognitively disabled young women, Quincy and Biddy, living away from their families for the first time. The book addresses the tough issue of sexual assault, which is commonly faced by women with disabilities like these. (4.5 stars)
7) Suzanne Collins's The Hunger Games Trilogy. This stunning and insightful YA sci-fi dystopian phenomenon about a future America where teens fight to the death on live television does also have disability representation--again, not in the first book, but in later ones. Thanks to his first Hunger Games, my boy Peeta ends up with a prosthetic leg. (The movies unfortunately ignored this. Boo!) (5-star average)
8) S.J. Kincaid's Insignia Trilogy. This is another longtime favorite of mine, a YA sci-fi series with great worldbuilding that follows a group of teens who have computers placed in their heads so that they can remotely fight international space wars. It has a wonderfully smart and snarky main character, but another big attraction for me is that one of the other central characters, Wyatt, is an autistic girl. (4.67-star average)
9) Janet Edwards's Earth Girl Trilogy. I'm all about this British YA sci-fi trilogy about a girl whose immune system won't allow her to leave Earth, making her one of the oft-disparaged "apes" or "Handicapped." She decides to attend an Earth-bound history (more like archaeology) program at an interplanetary university while keeping her status a secret. Jarra is basically a sci-fi Hermione with a bit of added warmth, and I adore her. Now, do note that in this story's world, all other disabilities are said to have been cured, which is a hurtful trope to many disabled people. I personally connect to this story, but I'm one of the disabled people who does want a cure for my illnesses. Later books in the series do show indications that mental conditions are not necessarily cured. (4.67-star average)
10) Dan Wells's Mirador Trilogy. In this inventive YA sci-fi series, a hacker named Marisa, who has a prosthetic arm, gets pulled into a conspiracy when her friend tries a virtual drug that affects her brain computer. Despite being a white LDS dude himself, Wells does a great job writing vibrant and diverse characters amidst appropriate worldbuilding. I very much admire it! (4.5-star average)
11) Scott Westerfeld, Margo Lanagan, and Deborah Biancotti's Zeroes Trilogy. This YA superhero-style sci-fi trilogy follows a group of kids with unique powers who have a difficult relationship with each other but who come together when danger calls. The characters are all well-written and believable, including Flicker, who is blind but has the power to see out of other people's eyes. (4.5-star average)
12) Livia Blackburne's Rosemarked Duology. I'm quite fond of this romantic YA fantasy series in which a healer, Zivah, who survived a deadly plague but who will be contagious for the rest of her life and a soldier, Dineas, from a neighboring tribe team up to spy on the empire that controls their peoples. It's another different kind of disability representation, but I really related to the parts about chronic illness. (4.5-star average)
13) Leigh Bardugo's Six of Crows Duology. The second of Bardugo's three Grishaverse YA fantasy series features a tough main character, Kaz, who uses a cane because of a leg problem. When I was at my sickest and in need of a cane, imagining myself as Kaz helped me get over my initial embarassment about using one. If you're a YA fan, you've probably already read this, but if you haven't, you should! The disability representation is #ownvoices. (4.5-star average)
14) Shaunta Grimes' Viral Nation Duology. This YA sci-fi dystopian series follows Clover, whose autism makes her an ideal candidate for a time-travelling group run by the totalitarian leaders of the future United States. It's a pretty original story, well-plotted, and with #ownvoices autism representation. (4.5-star average)
15) Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John. This surprise favorite of mine tells the YA contemporary story of Piper, a deaf girl who becomes the manager for a rock band while dealing with her parents' decision to give her baby sister a cochlear implant. It's engaging, full of heart, thought-provoking, and fun all at once! (5 stars)
16) The State of Grace by Rachael Lucas. This British YA contemporary novel focuses on an #ownvoices portrayal of an autistic girl, Grace, having her first romance. The representation includes an appropriate look at an autistic internal experience, and the story itself is a delight. (4.5 stars)
17) Odd & True by Cat Winters. This fantastical YA historical fiction about 1900s monster-hunting sisters has the trademark Cat Winters social insight combined with a blurring of the line between fantasy and reality. One of its main characters, Tru, also has a limp and chronic pain due to a past polio infection. It really fits my vibe. (4.5 stars)
18) Hold Me Like a Breath by Tiffany Schmidt. As a loose retelling of "The Princess and the Pea," this lovely and impactful YA contemporary novel follows Penelope, who has idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura, an autoimmune disease that causes easy bruising and bleeding. She's been heavily sheltered from her parents' work as crime bosses in the organ black market, but her naivety slowly vanishes as she gets pulled into the crossfire between rival families and falls in love for the first time.. (4.5 stars)
19) Bone Gap by Laura Ruby. In this well-received YA fabulism novel, Finn, a boy with undiagnosed facial blindness, tries to find a missing girl whom only he knows was kidnapped. The story is equal parts strange, haunting, and intriguing, with hints of "Hades and Persephone" and lots of beautiful prose. (4.5 stars)
20) The Sacred Lies of Minnow Bly by Stephanie Oakes. This haunting and thought-provoking YA contemporary novel is about a girl, Minnow, who ends up in prison after her cult leader is murdered and their camp set on fire. Minnow's hands were amputated as punishment for an earlier rebellion. (4.5 stars)
21) Run by Kody Keplinger. In this YA contemporary novel with dual timelines, two best friends, one of whom is a wild girl with a rough home life and one of whom is legally blind and a rule-follower, go on the run. It has Keplinger's usual free and feminist writing style, a wonderful female friendship, and #ownvoices blind representation. (4.5 stars)
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