When I was writing The Wysman, I realized that fantasy novels in which a handicapped teen was allowed to be the central character were few and far between. I occasionally saw them as sidekicks, but not as the heroes and heroines. This list includes as many more recent books as I could find in which the handicapped character is the star. I haven’t read them all, but I tried to get some sense of them from their descriptions and reviews. All were published in the last six years.
If you have books to add to this list, please do so in the comments. The books are listed alphabetically by author’s last name. (Some day we W’s will unite and seize the beginning of a list.)
Six of Crows by Leigh Bardugo (2015)
Think “Oceans Eleven” with teens in a Dutch-inspired fantasy world. The lead character, Kaz Brekker, uses a cane due to a leg injury caused by jumping off a bank roof when he was fourteen. Interestingly, the cane is also a weapon. This is one of my favorite books, so I’m not a neutral commenter here.
Magonia by Maria Dahvana Headley (2015)
Aza struggles to breathe until she’s transported to a land above the clouds called Magonia. She breathes easily there, but war is coming between Magonia and Earth. I haven’t read this. The reviews make it sound as if the writing is wonderful. I don’t know how I feel about a story in which getting rid of the handicap is a major plot element. I suppose that’s a wish many people would have. I believe her breathing difficulties are caused by the magic in the book.
A Curse So Dark and Lonely by Brigid Kemmerer (2019)
A retelling of Beauty and the Beast in which the female lead, Harper, has cerebral palsy. She’s living in present day Washington DC but is sucked into his timeline of Prince Rhen. He hopes she’s the girl whose love will save him from turning into a beast. As you’d expect from the original fairy tale, there’s a strong romance element but also much political intrigue. Harper’s handicap is not the focus of the story, but rather something she just lives with.
The Theft of Sunlight by Intisar Khanani (2021)
Rae, who was born with a club foot, searches for missing children and finds increasing danger and intrigue. Along the way, she receives unexpected help from a foreign princess and a street thief. Traditional fantasy. I haven’t read this yet, but the description made me buy the e-book.
The Call by Peadar O Guilin (2016)
This is a dark YA fantasy set in Ireland and drawing on Irish legend about the Sidhe. Nessa is a fourteen-year-old girl suffering from the aftereffects of polio. In this world, teens are “called” to the Sidhe’s Grey Land for a day that lasts 3 minutes in our time. Any survivors return maimed. Nessa’s task is to figure out how to stop this process.
Carve the Mark by Veronica Roth (2017)
Cyra suffers chronic pain. She also has the ability to transfer it to others via touch, so her brother uses her as a weapon in political struggles. The story suggests her true gift is resilience.
Return of the Thief by Megan Whalen Turner (2021)
This is the sixth novel in this wonderful series. The narrator, Pheris, was born with an unnamed, hereditary disease that sounds a lot like muscular dystrophy, though I can’t be sure. The central character in the story he narrates is Eugenides, the thief in the title, who has had a hand cut off.
Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker (2019)
This is a graphic novel of romance between a witch and a werewolf. Reviews refer to it as “sweet” and suggest to me that the story may be aimed at younger teens. Nova, the witch, wears hearing aids.
The Wysman by Dorothy Winsor (2020)
This is a traditional fantasy in which the central character, Jarka, was born with a club foot and uses a crutch. He’s a former street kid who’s now an apprentice advisor to the king. When street kids start to disappear, he suspects the danger comes from the castle and winds up investigating when he can’t get the authorities do it.