10 YA Books Showcasing Diverse Disability Characters

To Honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities here are ten YA books that showcase diverse characters with a unique disability.

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Having a disability makes individuals unique. To honor International Day of Persons with Disabilities, here are ten books that showcase a diverse spectrum of characters who have disabilities.

1. A List of Cages by Robin Roe


Adam Blake has finally got the best elective in his senior year: serving as an aide to the school’s psychologist. Even though he hates the idea of sitting around often, he won’t let his ADHD get in the way of his new position. When the doctor asks him to track down a troubled freshman that has been avoiding her, he discovers this person to be his foster brother Julian. He hasn’t seen Julian in five years, but he’s still the kind person who loves picture books and writing.

The more time they spend together, Adam realizes Julian is keeping secrets. Where does Julian go in the middle of the day, and what happens at home? With characters that have ADHD and Dyslexia, this book is about close friendship and embracing your truths.

2. Finding Balance by Kati Gardner


Jase Ellison had acute lymphocytic leukemia at the age of three. He doesn’t remember, but twice a year his cancer diagnosis comes to mind: when he gets a checkup at the oncology clinic, and when he attends Camp Chemo in the summer. No one in his ‘real life’ at Atlanta West Prep know about his past. And he wants to keep it that way.

Mari Manos can’t hide her cancer survivorship. She choose the bright pink crutches after losing her leg. She loves Camp Chemo and she’s crushing on Jase, because no one at this summer camp judges you, they just understand. After summer Jase learns Mari will transfer to his school. He doesn’t want her to spill his secrets, but he can’t deny the connection they have. Mari wants to be treated like a girl and not some cancer amputee. So the rising question for both of them as they fall harder for each other is: How do you move on from cancer when the world won’t let you forget?

3. When My Heart Joins the Thousand by A.J. Steiger


Alvie Fitz doesn’t care if she’ll ever fit in. Years of bad advice from both doctors and social workers, and taking several pills a day, isn’t what you would call ‘normal’. Adjust, adapt, be normal. Easier said than done. If she can make it to her eighteenth birthday without any issues, she’ll be free. If not, she’ll be sent back to the group home. She just wants to spent time with her best friend Chance, a one-winged hawk at the zoo.

Everything changes when she meets Stanley, a boy who’s stranger than her. He walks with a cane, and has a new injury every time she sees him. Surprisingly she gets closer to him and they form a bond. But with the past stalking her, she must make a decision to face herself or lose her new happiness. This book showcases autism and chronic illness.

4. Things the Eye Can’t See by Penny Joelson


Libby is visually impaired but she loves photography. She takes her guide dog, Samson, and takes photos wherever she goes. She craves independence, but her parents smother her with worries and concerns. The day a boy gives her a secret note to deliver changes everything. Soon, that boy goes missing and everyone seems fine except for Libby and her new friend Kyle. What if she can solve this mystery? Her family might not let her, but what if her one of her photos holds a clue?

5. Two Girls Staring at the Ceiling by Lucy Frank


Chess is sick but she doesn’t know what it is. Worse, she shares a hospital room with Shannon, her polar opposite. When Chess is polite, Shannon is rude. When Chess tolerates the pain with silence, Shannon screams so loud. When Chess seems to be getting better, Shannon gets worse. An unlikely friendship forms in this in-verse story that is from the hospital room as these two girls come to terms with their illness. This novel depicts Crohn’s disease.

6. Wild and Crooked by Leah Thomas


In Samsboro, Kentucky, Kalyn Spence’s name is inseparable from the brutal murder her father committed when he was a teen. Forced to return, Kalyn must attend school with a false name or face the lingering anger of Samsboro’s citizens who won’t forget what her father has done.

Gus Peake can’t redefine himself. A Samsboro native, known as the disabled kid with cerebral palsy, or as the kid whose dad was murdered. He just wants to be seen. When Gus meets Kalyn her frankness is refreshing, this created a deep friendship. Until family pasts emerge and causes an uproar. Can they break through the past lies and forge their own paths?

7. A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard


Steffi can’t talk, yet she has so much to say. Rhys can’t hear but he can listen.

Steffi is selectively mute, but she didn’t choose this; she wishes she could say everything. She also has anxiety, which makes her unable to open her mouth. But Rhys, the new boy sees her. He’s deaf, and her knowledge of basic sign language has her assigned to help him acclimate at school. They find ways to communicate, and she gains the sudden willpower to want to use her voice. Her falling for someone has her in a nervous excitement. But she must confront questions about her own identity.

8. Under Rose Tainted Skies by Louise Gornall


Norah has agoraphobia, the fear of crowded places or leaving your home. She also has OCD which makes her a bit of a perfectionist and wanting things a certain way. When she uses a stick to snag her grocery bags onto her porch, she meets Luke. Luke is sweet and funny, but just witnessed her grabbing groceries with a stick. How embarrassing! As their friendship grows she feels unworthy. A love story against the backdrop of a mental illness, as Norah struggles to face her demons. Readers will be rooting for her and saying she is worthy.

9. Made You Up by Francesca Zappia


Reality isn’t often what you perceive it to be. There is sometimes someone out to get you.

This story is about Alex, a high school senior and unreliable narrator that can’t tell real life from delusion. Fight what is real and what is not? With her take-no-prisoners attitude, her camera, her little sister, and a magic 8 ball, she hopes to stay sane so she can get into a college. She is optimistic until she runs into Miles. Didn’t she “make him up”?

Next thing: parties, love, friends, experiencing everything the average teen does. But can she trust that it’s all real? This book is about schizophrenia, and navigating life through trust.

10. Unbroken: 13 Stories Disabled Teens edited by Marieke Nijkamp


This anthology explores disabilities in fictional tales told from the point of view of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. The stories explore varying genres of love, friendship, travel, war and more. This series offers teens a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future. Some authors are bestsellers, others newcomers–names including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, Corinne Duyvis–but each author identifies as disabled in a physical, mental, or neurodiverse way.

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