An Author’s Responsibility

I posted this review at Goodreads and Amazon after starting and getting about 140 pages into Forbidden, by Syrie James and Ryan M. James:

I didn’t actually finish this, I only reached page 137. It is your average paranormal high school angel romance, enough that I would have finished reading it, most likely, and probably given it a decent rating. So why did I stop?

I have noticed an increasing trend in young adult books using derogatory terms in reference to individuals with developmental disabilities, in this case, on page 137, “Holy crap,” Erica said. “We’ve been so short-bus about this.”

Teenagers probably think this is funny and just read it, laugh or not, and go on. As someone who writes and also works with children with disabilities in an elementary school, where we are trying to stamp out bullying and engender understanding, it truly dismays me when I see this happen in books that have recently been published. The children I work with are kind and loving, they are just different. They have autism or cerebral palsy or Down syndrome, in some cases other syndromes. There are some wonderful students at our school who come and volunteer as peer buddies to students in our class, and become their friends and understand their differences better.

Yes, sometimes people with disabilities act differently in public, make strange noises, or do strange things. They are honest, they don’t hide who they are. Just because some of them can’t speak doesn’t mean they don’t have things to say, they just need people willing to take the time to listen.

Authors have a responsibility, to an extent. If we put something in a book or story that’s derogatory, there needs to be a good reason for it, not simply put it there to make fun of people at their expense. There’s nothing wrong with people who are gay, lesbian, bi, transsexual, transgender, bi-racial, a difference race than our own, etc. etc., and if comments were made about anything like that, there would possibly be a stir about it, but often if it’s making fun of disabilities, it doesn’t get mentioned.

It is not open season on people with disabilities. Authors need to remember this, think about their audience, and remember that what they write sinks in. It encourages further devaluation of a population that doesn’t deserve it, and includes some of the best people I’ve known.

It’s truly a shame, because I think this book has promise. I just think that authors, editors, and publishers such as HarperTeen should think about these things a little more closely. Just because someone with a severe disability might not be reading your books, someone who loves someone who is might be.

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