Two things are on my mind today, the wonderful lecture Friday night by Sara Dessen sponsored by “Black, White, and Read all over,” a program organized by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh and the Drew Heinz lecture series. Sara published her first book in 1994, a realistic novel, and has published 10 Y.A.s since. She’s absolutely delightful as a speaker, but as a writer, she’s even better. All her books are realistic portrayals of contemporary teens. All stories have multi-layers. The parents, uncharacteristically for this genre, are big subordinate people in her books. Probably her greatest strength, although I’ve only read 1/5 of her books, is characterization. The cast in her books seem real and sympathetic, yet flawed, but quirky and individualistic. She said she can’t write about the handsome jockish guy, although there’s nothing wrong with writing about such a person. But her guys must have quirks and/or darkness to them. I’d recommend Along for the Ride and What Happened to Goodbye for studying characterization.
The second issue on my mind falls also into the subject of characterization. In an interview with John Green about his beautiful book, The Fault in Our Stars, he said he’d always wanted to write about teens with cancer and had tried to write the book for 11 years. (Thank you, John. Many of us are seeing the years pass as we write our books). The interviewer asked why he wanted to write it. He said, “Kids who are seriously sick do not want to be treated as ‘other.’” They have all the same feelings, thoughts, concerns as other teens. They just face the huge issues of life at this age, rather than later.
I think the same could be said of people with disabilities. We don’t want to be treated as “other,” but as people who do things differently, who have a bit more struggle probably in daily life tasks. But we are ”you,” not “the other.” John Green’s characters, like Sara Dessen’s, live on after we’ve closed the book. We think of them, then have to remember that they were fictional. But they impact us like real people.