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by Liane Shaw

Age Range: 12 - 16

Pub Date: March 1st, 2013
ISBN: 978-1-926920-93-1
Publisher: Second Story Press

A traumatized teen heals with the help of a Very Special Disabled Girl who exists to teach her an Important Lesson.

Alex has barely spoken since the car accident that took the life of her best friend Cali. Traumatized and self-absorbed, the former Broadway-musical buff has avoided school, singing and conversation for a year. Court-ordered community service introduces her to Joanie, whose neuromuscular disorder prevents her from speaking. Brief chapters reveal both girls' viewpoints: Alex's silent and empty present interspersed with flashbacks to her joyful friendship with the boisterous Cali; Joanie's silent and friendless hospitalization similarly flashing back to her social life before her illness became so severe. Alex, arriving as Joanie's court-mandated friend, is roped by an eager speech therapist into helping Joanie learn to use an eye-controlled speech board. It doesn't take long before Joanie's eagerness, optimism and need draw Alex out of her grief and self-loathing. Tragedy strikes for Joanie, but she's served her fictional purpose: Alex is cured. All Joanie's endearing characterization is for naught, as the stale trope of disabled person dying to teach a life lesson overwhelms her personhood. Ultimately, this is Alex's tale alone; Joanie could just as easily have been a Very Special Old Person or a Very Special Poor Person.

For a nonverbal teen who is a character and not just a plot device, leave this aside and try Sharon Draper's Out of My Mind (2010). (Fiction. 12-16)