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Accidents of Nature

by Harriet McBryde Johnson

Published by Henry Holt, 2006
229 pages
ISBN: 0805076344

Age 14 and older

Jean has cerebral palsy but doesn’t think of herself as crippled. At 17, she has spent all of her life working hard at fitting in. In fact, the week she is embarking on at Camp Courage is the first time she’s been around other disabled people. Sara, one of Jean’s bunkmates, has a challenging new perspective on Jean’s outlook: “Aw, come on. You’re a Crip. Otherwise you wouldn’t be in Crip Camp. Say it loud, ‘I’m crippled and proud.’” Jean has never doubted that it is her responsibility to fit in with the rest of society by conforming to their standards of normality. Sara dares Jean to think about conformity as false ideal. What’s wrong with the way they are? For Jean, who sees her one great failure as her inability to master walking, Sara’s radical ideas are unsettling to think about, but also liberating. Sara jars Jean from her deep-seated attitudes about herself and the world in which she lives, a world in which people like Sara and Jean are seen as less-than, or invisible, or pitied and made the focus of well-meaning initiatives like telethons. Telethons, Sara asserts, make “normal” people feel good while perpetuating the idea that disabled people need to be fixed. Jean’s change over her week at Camp Courage is told in a first-person voice that is often humorous, and sometimes painfully intimate, giving readers an eye-opening perspective on living in our world with a disability. A biographical note states that the author attended schools for children with disabilities and went to a cross-disability summer camp as a teenager. A lawyer who focuses on benefits and civil rights claims for poor and working people with disabilities, Harriet McBryde Johnson holds “the world endurance record […] for protesting the Jerry Lewis telethon for the Muscular Dystrophy Association.” (MVL) ©2006 Cooperative Children’s Book Center

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