Ho, ho, ho! Hello, my Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanzaa-celebrants! I hope you’ve all been good, because today you get a book bonus! Yes, it’s time for another pro-disability book list. I haven’t done one in a long time, but my first readers may remember my first one came out on Christmas Eve, 2011. So here I am again.
This list will be a bit different from the ones of the past. It is still pro-disability, meaning I have endeavored to avoid inspiration porn and offensive tropes, such as the idea of disabled characters being cured or killed off for the benefit of abled characters, especially main ones (which also means the characters with disabilities are only satellites). It’s still fiction-oriented. But this list is focused specifically on Christian fiction, or Judeo-Christian if you like.
No, this is not an attempt to be non-inclusive or leave out or offend non-Christians. I chose to focus on this sub-genre for two reasons. One, especially lately, it might seem as if in my blog, I’m down on Christians, my own tribe. I’ve chosen to call out a lot of suspicious behavior from them when it comes to disability, and I’m not off the hook, either. This has meant facing up to my own biases, my own prejudices, my own fears. And in no way am I, personally, done. You’ll hear more about that later. Warning: it’s gonna get personal, and it’s gonna get heavy, so prepare yourself. I may purposely hold off in deference to the holidays, but may not. Because after all, what else did Jesus come for if not to dispel our personal darkness? So I chose to focus on Christian books in part to say, there is inclusivity in my tribe. There is room for disabled people. Some of us do it right. We are getting better.
Two, I am a writer, fiction is my first love, and as a Christ-follower, it is my conviction to include Him in my stories. If He isn’t in them in some form, it feels like something’s missing. I realize not everyone believes the same, and that’s okay. But I beg indulgence, especially for readers who might feel the same about Christian fiction.
*Note: You may recognize a few titles from previous lists. Also, I have read a lot of these. Those I have not, I have assurance, do not veer into inspiration porn, at least in the opinions of those I consulted. My thanks to the members of the Avid Readers of Christian Fiction Facebook group.
Here we go:
A Passion Most Pure (Julie Lessman): I thought it fitting to begin with one of my absolute favorites. This is Julie Lessman’s author debut, published in 2009, the beginning of her Daughters of Boston trilogy and O’Connor family saga, which spans 1914-the 1930s. Passion’s protagonist, Faith O’Connor, battled polio as a little kid and wore braces during elementary school. That’s how she met and fell head over heels for Colin McGuire, who defended her from a school bully and paid her attention based on who she was as a person. As an adult, she still walks with a limp (no braces), and battles insecurity, partially because Colin has grown up to fall in love with her gorgeous and abled sister, Charity. Faith’s disability doesn’t play a huge role, but it does color her insecurities and personal growth. It’s a deep, multifaceted, kind of Leah-and-Rachel story. Plus, if you like romance without the steamy stuff, but don’t want Grandma’s Christian romance, this is totally for you.
My Foolish Heart (Susan May Warren). This is #4 in Susan May’s Deep Haven saga, but can be read as a standalone. Uniquely, both protagonists have disabilities in this one. Isadora (Issy) Presley has severe PTSD and agoraphobia after living through the car accident that killed her mom and left her dad, the town’s beloved football coach, incapacitated and in the town long-term care facility. She now runs a radio show, Miss Lonely Heart, from home. Caleb Knight is an Iraq veteran and leg amputee who’s come to town hoping to become the new football coach. One problem: he’s up against popular, abled, former star player Seb Brewster for the same job. And, he’s falling hard for Issy, who’s too shy and prickly to give him the time of day–so he seeks advice from Miss Lonely Heart. Perfect if you like You’ve Got Mail. Plus, Susan May throws in a double romance–Seb’s wooing Lucy, the owner of the local doughnut shop (it’s spelled “donut” in the book, which personally drives me nuts, but whatever).
The Boys Upstairs (Jane Lebak). I haven’t read this particular novella, but had it recommended by Jane herself. As a bonus, it’s currently free on Kindle Unlimited. The protagonist, Father Jay, is physically disabled and nearly blind. The story centers on his efforts to “feed and shelter” three homeless boys in his Roman Catholic parish, for which he needs help from his estranged brother, Kevin, a beat cop and devout nonbeliever. If you’re into military stories, Jay, like Caleb, is a veteran. And if you like this, it’s a series–there’s two more. If you’re Catholic and sick of seeing negative representation, this might be a breath of fresh air, too.
Ezekiel’s Song (Naomi Craig). I’m in the middle of this one right now. As you might guess, it concerns the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel. You might know that God (Yahweh, in the Jewish tradition) paralyzed him and rendered him mute except when speaking prophecies, so the book deals with these. Ezekiel’s Song also gives readers some focus on Ezekiel’s unnamed wife, who is Shiriel (Shiri) in this story. She’s a Temple singer, which contrasts with Ezekiel’s muteness. It’s the second in a series but can be read as a standalone.
Sons of Blackbird Mountain (Joanne Bischoff). The writing style of this one put me off (telling over showing, less character development than I like), but that doesn’t mean others won’t love it. It focuses on Aven Norgaard, an Irish immigrant widow who married a Norwegian man only for him to die, leaving her no choice but to become a 19th-century workhouse inmate. When she’s finally able to get out, she flees to Appalachia to become a housekeeper to her husband’s three bachelor cousins. The oldest, Thor, captures her interest and she, his. But Thor is deaf and mute. Much more problematically, he’s got a serious hard cider addiction, thanks in part to the brothers’ thriving trade in the stuff. Throw in Aven’s past, visits from the KKK, and the rigors of Appalachia, and you’ve got plenty of obstacles on top of, and instead of, the plain old “I’m disabled, we can’t be together” trope.
Woman in Shadow (Carrie Stuart Parks). Carrie doesn’t write in my preferred genres, and she tends to pile characters and events on top of each other. This said, she does know how to tell a fascinating mystery or thriller. Woman in Shadow stars Darby Graham, who wears a prosthetic leg and has PTSD, so a physical/psychological disability combination (fairly rare still in fiction). She’s a forensic linguistic, or someone who analyzes written or spoken words for the sake of solving crimes. During the book, she uses that skill to solve a string of arsons.
A Light on the Hill (Connilyn Cossette). Connilyn is one of my favorite authors. The protagonist of this, the first novel in her Cities of Refuge series, is Moriyah bat Ishi. Moriyah’s disability is more deformity; she was kidnapped as a young teen and nearly forced into temple prostitution, which included tattooing/scarring her face with the symbols of enemy tribes’ gods. Now, she’s an outcast in her Old Testament community, and has no choice but to marry a surly widower with two unruly, ableist boys. But when her betrothal takes a horrible, life-altering twist, Moriyah will have to face dangerous inner and outer obstacles to claim the peace, and the life, Yahweh means her to have.
Driving Force (Lynette Eason and Kate Angelo). This is one of my favorites in the suspense/military genre. That’s no mean feat, since it’s a novella and outside my usual favorite genres (historical, Biblical, romance, the like). Here, soldiers Christina and Greyson (Grey) are paired together when she is hired to act as a bodyguard, but not for him–for his highly trained, military-grade service dog, Boss. Grey is both a wheelchair-user, a high-grade disability tech user (for military personnel only), and a Special Ops member. Christina is an ex-soldier who now helps run a company of all-female, specially trained bodyguards. Their romance focuses a lot less on the mushy, sweet stuff, and a lot more on stopping terrorists from unleashing killer viruses into the country. It’s short, but it’s a great representation of physical disability, and a page-turner.
High Stakes Trilogy (Lynette Eason). I wasn’t aware of this trilogy until I put out the call for Christian, pro-disability books. Turns out, Lynette Eason, a big voice in Christian romantic suspense, has a whole trilogy with Deaf main characters. The first is Mariana Santino, a Deaf teacher at Palmetto Deaf School. I’m not sure of the Deaf/hearing combos in the others, but that’s a place to start. And again, this is suspense, so if anybody ever told you disabled characters can’t go after bad guys and win…
All That it Takes (Nicole Deese). Valerie sustained physical disabilities after a skiing accident, and had to relearn to do a lot of physical tasks most abled people do without a thought (e.g., walking, maneuvering school hallways, carrying a backpack). She found inspiration through the filmed stories of other kids with acquired and congenital disabilities, and found her own gift for filmmaking. As an adult, she also finds the courage to move cross-country as a single mom and a budding creative (read, making filmmaking her primary career). But life gets sticky when her friendship with upstairs neighbor Miles goes further than she expected. She can’t risk romance because youth pastor Miles is leaving for the mission field…and in a twist, he can’t risk it because he’s afraid she’ll abandon him (rather than, the other way around because Val is disabled). The way Val and Miles get to their relationship, plus the unique elements (a disabled heroine who is allowed to be independent and a single mom) make this a favorite.
Remembering and Open for Miracles (AmyLuRiley). These novellas star River Carter, who lives with memory loss and brain injuries due to mold exposure. They focus on her taking over her family’s pottery shop and making it her own, plus adjusting to improvements in her disability that may be blessings, but may also cause more trouble than they’re worth. It’s an interesting and again, rare, look at disability, in that usually, any improvement is seen as the ultimate goal.
Words We Painted (Caitlin Miller). Caitlin is a new voice in Christian fiction, but her reams of five-star reviews have me thinking she’s going to be a memorable one. I’m choosing not to read this one right now, as her protagonist Josie shares a diagnosis in common with my protagonist Carlotta (both have survived polio, though Carlotta got it from a futuristic plague, and Josie got it in 1936, the pre-vaccine days). The novel focuses on Josie’s life after survival, her independence (she doesn’t ask permission exactly, she just seeks it, which would be scandalous for any 1951 lady in a way), and her artistic gift. Reviewers reference Josie having a devoted best friend, Sophie, who might be in the “caregiver” role, but from what I see of Josie, she is in no way willing to play the stereotypical care recipient.
Isaiah’s Legacy (Mesu Andrews). This is one I’m careful recommending, because of the protagonist. It’s Manasseh, who was Biblically and historically the most wicked king of Judah (after the Israel/Judah split post-Solomon). Historical and scholarly texts led Mesu to paint Manasseh as having Asperger’s syndrome, so I must beg you: read the author’s note first. There, she explains this, and is clear, as in the book itself, that there is no existent, or even discernible, link between violence and sin, and autism/Asperger’s. Rather, this is a sweeping story of how no human is impervious to sin, how Yahweh redeems all and whatever, and how autism is not an outgrowth of sin, but rather a legitimate part of personhood that can be used for good or ill/twisted by other people. Manasseh’s relationships with others, particularly wife Shulle, show this.
Dancing in the Rain (Eileen Rife) and Jennifer Slattery). Loni Parker is a passionate musician and an intelligent, capable woman, but she’s blind, and no one will hire her because of it (yeah, girl, feel ya)! When an opening occurs at Camp Hope, she jumps on it (I know, I know, one thing at a time, I guess). But director Michael Ackerman drives her batty, first with his ableist assumptions, then with his general annoying characteristics. And when it turns out Michael and his former alcoholism caused Loni’s blindness…hoo, boy. Calling all romance angels, we’re gonna need the Special Forces for this one!
Where Love Grows (Heidi Chiavaroli). This is the third in a series, but can be read as a standalone. It’s a twist on Little Women, with other books starring one each of the March sisters (Martin sisters here). In this one–yea! Beth lives! Here, she’s Lizzie Martin, a songwriter who’s too shy to record and express her songs, so she helps her folks with their B&B and pines for the guy who pays for her coffee every day at the drive-through (like “donut,” I hate “drive-thru.”) That guy is Asher Hill, owner of an extreme sports company and wheelchair-user. Interestingly, he’s allowed to be brusque and bitter, not because of the disability necessarily, but because he got there after a non-sports accident. As in, maybe it wouldn’t hurt so much, but he didn’t get hurt doing what he loved, it was something he considers stupid, so… Anyway, Asher and Lizzie need to hit it off. Heidi’s writing style is a little too heavy on the telling over showing/simplistic for me here (she’s written books I liked much better). But for our topic, this is the best fit, and again, Asher is a good spin on the usual disabled hero. Plus, even though she’s the abled one, brownie points because Beth actually gets to live. I always liked her and felt she got cheated.
Hannah’s Joy (Marta Perry). It’s been a while since I read this one; I’ve gotten away from reading Amish books, especially those with disabled characters, since they tend to paint disability as “God’s will, so you never question or seek independence/the disabled are ‘special.'” But this one still stands out. Hannah falls for William, not because or in spite of his stammer, but because of who he is as a person. And she doesn’t focus on helping him “overcome” the stammer, but supporting him as he builds an independent identity, especially around his overbearing brother Isaac, who believes William is both unable and unworthy to do much. Their romance is as sweet and clean as you’d expect of an Amish book, but not overly so, and again, without the sugar-sweetness of a typical “Amish disabled person” portrayal.
Cinder Allia (Karen Ullo). To wrap up, y’all know I can never resist a good Cinderella retelling! Here, the prince is disabled; he uses a wheelchair, and bonus, it’s congenital (as opposed to battle-related; it’s actually his abled brother, the prince, who’s killed in battle, which affects Allia, the Cinderella character). This, plus some other elements (Allia’s father is still alive and has become abusive, her stepmother is conniving in a different way than usual), make this a unique retelling as well.
There are more, and I hope more to come–as you know, I hope my works will soon join the ranks. But until then, I hope curious readers will find some compatriots and some legitimate inspiration in these. Remember, my recommendations are my own; just because I love or don’t love a book based on writing style or genre doesn’t need to influence your opinion. Happy reading and again, merry and happy holidays to all!