25 Audiobooks Featuring Disabled Characters for Young Listeners of All Ages

For July's Disability Pride Month and beyond, these 25 audiobooks featuring disabled characters are edifying and enlightening selections for elementary, middle grade, and YA listeners. 

July marks Disability Pride Month, which first began as a single day of celebration in 1990, the year the Americans with Disabilities Act became law. The first Disability Pride Month was in July 2015, commemorating the ADA’s 25th anniversary.

For both disabled and nondisabled readers, disability activist Melissa Blake’s Beautiful People (reviewed below) is a welcoming starting point for encouraging understanding. Yes, it’s an adult crossover, but older teens and caregivers will benefit immensely in discovering “the real, the everyday, the joys and sorrows, the pride and frustrations” of the disability experience. Further edification and enlightenment can be found in these titles for all ages. That these audiobooks were all published in 2024 is proof of growing disability awareness and greater inclusion in publishing. Listen in. 

 

Early Elementary

ARMSTRONG, Mia. I Am a Masterpiece!: An Empowering Story About Inclusivity and Growing Up with Down Syndrome. narrated by Mia Armstrong. 17 min. Listening Library. Jan. 2024. $5. ISBN 9780593826461.
PreS-Gr 4–Tween actor and activist Armstrong makes an impressive authorial and narrating debut, proving she’s her best advocate: “Don’t whisper. Don’t look away. Do say hello.” She uses humor and kindness to diffuse hurtful situations—particularly with rude and unthinking adults. When her class is tasked with drawing self-portraits, Armstrong’s is “something special, something to show how happy I feel being me.” Her classmates don’t initially understand, until she explains, “It’s how I feel , not how I look.” Armstrong—who patiently explains why she’s “hard to understand sometimes”—is an infectiously effusive reader. She also gets a little help from her friends—Aubrielle Bazerkanian, James O’Neal III, and BFF Monroe Rebecca-Blu Cleary—to role-play her ending FAQs. VERDICT To choose only audio would be to miss Armstrong’s “best” self-portrait—and the rest of Alexandra Thompson’s whimsical, inclusive art. Libraries should consider enabling read-alongs by providing all formats.

CURRY, Stephen. I Am Extraordinary. narrated by Keylor Leigh, Nekia Renee Martin, Kevin R. Free, Emma Lysy, Emily Marso, & Angel Pean. 10 min. Listening Library. Mar. 2024. $5. ISBN 9780593745069.
K-Gr 2–“All [Zoe] ever wanted was to be ordinary, just like all the other kids.” At her new school, she worries about wearing hearing aids—especially if she’s going to try out for the soccer team. Three new friends recognize her talent and encourage her to join. Although just 10 minutes long, NBA star-turned-author Curry’s sophomore title gets a memorable full-cast production: Leigh is an empathic narrator; Martin ciphers Zoe’s many emotions; Lysy is warmly wise Mila; Marso is friendly Marley and Brooklyn; Free is kind older brother Aaron and encouraging author Curry. Bouncy sound effects accentuate the narration throughout but can’t quite replace a side-by-side read-along. On the page, “Who wants to be ordinary...when you can be...EXTRAORDINARY!” is visually emphasized with illustrations of a baseball player using a wheelchair, a runner with a prosthesis—images that the audio’s crack of a bat and rhythmic steps can’t replicate. VERDICT To complete this mighty performance, bundle with the printed book.

GORDON, Tyler. The Boy Who Found His Voice. narrated by Tyler Gordon. 7 min. Macmillan Young Listeners. Jun. 2024. $1.99. ISBN 9781250355416.
PreS-Gr 2–Teen activist and artist Gordon proves his triple-threat prowess as writer, illustrator, and narrator of his picture book about his speech differences: “This book is dedicated to kids who get tongue-tied. Just know your words are worth the wait.” Tyler can’t get his words to “come out right.” With his mother’s help, he learns to “loudly, proudly” use his art andhis voice to declare, “This is me.” For the most fulfilling experience, a read-along is essential: to pick only print is to miss Gordon’s vulnerable narration; to choose just aural means overlooking Gordon’s imaginative, humorous art—including his self-portrait cover of his 2021 debut, We Can. Also not in audio (but should be) is Gordon’s author’s note in which he shares his deafness at birth, the surgery that returned his hearing but caused a stutter, and art as his best therapy. VERDICT Libraries need all formats to share with future artists, activists, and superstars.

HAMMOND, Tiffany. A Day with No Words. narrated by André Santana. 7 min. Row House by Spotify Audiobooks. Mar. 2024. $7.99. ISBN 9798368926049.
Gr 1-2–Autistic activist and author Hammond’s 2023 bestselling mother-and-son story gets a lyrical aural adaptation a year later, its quotidian rhythms ideally captured by Santana’s softly affecting performance. The autistic boy doesn’t speak, but the use of a tablet ensures he’s heard. At the park, an ignorant mother notices the child and “sneers, ‘That boy is handicapped.’” Mama demands the adults (and their kids) listen: “My son does not speak, but his ears work just fine./ The words that you say go straight to his mind.” On their walk home with smiles restored, the pair stop to enjoy toothsome snacks. Hammond writes in her author’s note how sharing a day with the boy as experienced from his first-person POV “gives us a better understanding of his challenges as a nonspeaking individual in a world that prioritizes speech.” VERDICT The boy in this book may not speak, but gifted Santana ensures audiences hear every resonating thought.

KANE, Karen & Jonaz McMillan. Monster Hands. narrated by Kathleen McInerney. 7 min. Listening Library. May 2024. $5. ISBN 9780593867037.
PreS-Gr 2–Before becoming a writer, Kane was a sign language interpreter. McMillan is a self-described “DeafQueer writer.” Together, their excellent collaboration introduces across-the-street best friends whose directly facing bedroom windows conveniently allow for anytime conversations in ASL. After reading a book about a monster under his bed, Milo signs “I’m scared” to Mel. Having banished a sneaky monster of her own, Mel knows just what to do. By shining the light on the wall and making “monster hands” that ROAR, CHOMP, LAUGH, the dynamic duo work together in perfect sync to make Milo feel safe again. Versatile veteran McInerney deftly creates three distinct voices—the heartening narrator, worried Milo, encouraging Mel—enlivening Kane and McMillan’s edifying story of imaginative cooperation. In order to see Milo and Mel’s hands in courageous action, combining with print is highly recommended. VERDICT With countless under-the-bed monsters, libraries might avail antidotal copies in all formats to encourage peaceful slumber.

SUCHYTA, Marissa & Samir Mardini. My Extraordinary Face: A Celebration of Differences. narrated by Sybil Johnson. 13 min. Dreamscape Audio. May 2024. $9.99. ISBN 9781666660234.
PreS-Gr 2–The audiobook—thoughtfully, reassuringly read by Johnson—is most effective as a supplement to print. In an example of “a picture is worth a thousand words,” Violet Tobacco’s vibrant illustrations immediately reveal the “extraordinary” qualities of the faces highlighted here, including a prominent birthmark, cleft lip, and more. The text is full of soothing affirmations, but the aural outcome is considerably more general: “Every face is special. Your face is one of a kind.” Indications of potential negative interactions are implied rather than intuitively obvious as seen on the page. Bolstered by their own experiences working with children with facial differences, doctors Suchyta and Mardini offer realistic tools for self-care and self-advocacy in a world where kindness can be too rare. Their detailed caregivers’ addendum—with useful, practical tactics (including role-play)—is a valuable bonus. VERDICT Print and audio together present a symbiotically useful pairing.


Middle Grade

HAAS, Susan with Lexi Haas. The Year of the Buttered Cat. narrated by Alexandra Ryan. 7:11 hrs. Hachette Audio. May 2024. $24.99. ISBN 9781668642801.
Gr 5 Up–For 13-year-old Lexi, the daughter in the Haas mother/daughter writing duo, the “bad guys are the -ists—neurologists, internists, anesthesiologists...The ones with the pokers.” She’s about to undergo her second Deep Brain Stimulation surgery, convinced this time she’ll finally get her body—as long as she can find her “five gifts” in time, as prophesied by a stranger at a Shoney’s buffet. Untreated jaundice at birth caused kernicterus, manifesting in permanent neurological damage that left Lexi with virtually no physical or vocal control. Written from Lexi’s first-person perspective, the narrative moves between now-Lexi facing surgery and that pivotal year (13 months, actually) of the buttered cat when Lexi was mostly five. Ryan affectingly becomes Lexi—rich with insight, wisdom, snark, determination, wonder—reflecting a well-earned maturity beyond Lexi’s years. VERDICT Challenges are many (including the writing of this book) but Ryan ensures listeners experience Lexi’s infectious joy.

LARSON, Kirby & Quinn Wyatt. Gut Reaction. narrated by Jen Taylor. 5:54 hrs. Scholastic Audio. Mar. 2024. $24.99. ISBN 9781546117711.
Gr 3-7–Larson revealed in an SLJ guest post she needed 10 years of convincing by daughter Wyatt to write this book; she eventually agreed only if they worked together. The duo transform Wyatt’s Crohn’s disease experience into a richly layered story far beyond an excruciating diagnosis. Versatile Taylor warmly imbues the memorable cast with vibrantly distinct personalities (though we’ll pretend she didn’t garble Simon Nguyen’s name twice). Tess’s first-person narration allows Taylor to channel her protagonist’s expansive emotional growth. Being the new kid in eighth grade is hard; to feel less alone, Tess sends her late father texts. She’s an accomplished baker—“Dad 2.0”—but lately, most foods feel like knives shredding her insides. Learning she has Crohn’s is devastating, but family and friends—particularly new bestie Elly—help Tess live, laugh, and bake delectably. VERDICT Readers with physical disabilities will find instant resonance here; any teen or tween reader will also likely appreciate.

NETZ, Mo. The Lumbering Giants of Windy Pines. narrated by Hope Newhouse. 4:22 hrs. HarperAudio. Mar. 2024. $27.99. ISBN 9780063266568.
Gr 3-7–Almost-12-year-old Jerry uses a pink wheelchair, has a Yiddish-accented dragon named Paul, and lives with her widowed mother at the Slumbering Giant motel where Mama cleans rooms. Excessive bullying led to homeschooling, “which just means [she] read[s] a lot of books.” She’s made a new friend, Chapel, whose family’s home recently burned down. Lately, Mama’s day job has turned nightly, until one morning, she doesn’t return. Jerry and Chapel must face demons, ghosts, and monsters to save Mama, and then their entire town. Newhouse earnestly enlivens debut author Metz’s quirky cast—young and older, human and not. Metz, who also uses a wheelchair, writes with experienced understanding about being truly seen as disabled or different: Jerry’s chair is obvious but isn’t “weird” or “limiting”; ignoring Chapel’s Blackness is neither equalizing nor accepting. VERDICT Netz and Newhouse provide a spookily entertaining lesson in bypassing easy assumptions.

PATRICK, Cat. We Built This City. narrated by Jorjeana Marie. 5:37 hrs. Listening Library. Apr. 2024. $15. ISBN 9780593664247.
Gr 5-7–Marie is a familiar, welcoming voice, returning for her second Patrick title; her impressive age-defying aural capabilities cipher tweens, teens, adults—and even the legendary Casey Kasem. It’s summer 1985 as the lip-syncing dance troupe Synchronicity embarks on a four-week, 22-city tour. Twelve-year-old Stevie, her older brother Brandon, and her best friend Wes are among the 26 traveling kids—and so is Stevie’s forever-crush, Joey. Unable to share her feelings directly, Stevie’s instead been sending regular letters to American Top 40’s Casey Kasem, hoping to get an on-air dedication. She’s got plenty of distractions to keep her from getting too lovesick, particularly her concern for her older brother whose epilepsy might be worsening. Being constantly on the road provides Stevie important opportunities to grow: “Maybe I will become a girl with friends and confidence and that star sparkle, on and off the stage.” VERDICT Marie notably boosts an already charming story with another captivating performance.

ROMERO, Libby. Helen Keller. narrated by Penelope Rawlins. 1:38 hrs. (DK Life Stories). DK Children. Apr. 2024. $7.50. ISBN 9780593961452.
Gr 3-7–Prolific Rawlins is clearly a voice-of-choice for the ongoing “DK Life Stories” series which showcase “extraordinary historical figures”; this marks her (at least) 10th narration among the dozens of series titles, clearly repeatedly cast for her chameleonic vocal adaptations. Her performance here is youthful and bright, as the majority of the narrative highlights Keller’s life from birth (when she could still see and hear) to her debilitating childhood illness, her miraculous relationship with her teacher Anne Sullivan, and her Radcliffe graduation as a young adult. As Keller ages, Rawlins tempers her presentation slightly, but remains engaging throughout Romero’s brief overview of Keller’s remarkable accomplishments as a pioneer in seeing and hearing disabilities. “The simplest way to be happy is to do good” becomes the foundation of her inspiring legacy. VERDICT Rawlins persuasively provides young readers with a crisp, memorable introduction to an enduring hero.

SCHU, John. Louder Than Hunger. narrated by John Schu & Jeff Ebner. 3:43 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2024. $15. ISBN 9780593943021.
Gr 5 Up–Schu’s dedication in his debut novel-in-verse includes, “For thirteen-year-old me, who needed a book like this one.” Legendary Kate DiCamillo adds in her heartening foreword, “Telling your story can save your life. It may save someone else’s life, too.” This is Jake’s story, which Schu reveals in his author’s note (empathically self-read), “parallels [his] own life in many ways.” Ebner is a vulnerable cipher, assuming Jake’s first-person narrative with versatility—wistful, desperate, livid, hopeful. Eighth grader Jake recites Emily Dickinson, enjoys rollerblading, dreams of “see[ing] a musical on Broadway with Grandma.” He shares his deepest secrets with an angel statue he’s named Frieden—German for peace—but his loudest conversations happen with “The Voice” which feeds Jake’s severe anorexia. Forcibly committed to a treatment center, his recovery journey will be harrowing. VERDICT Jake’s multi-diagnosis—eating disorder, OCD, depression—might be triggering to some, but also lifesaving inspiration for multitudes.

SPECHT, Amie Darnell & Shannon Hitchcock. Dancing in the Storm. narrated by Cassandra Morris. 3:48 hrs. Listening Library. Feb. 2024. $15. ISBN 9780593824788.
Gr 3-7–Morris, with almost 400 credits, repeats her remarkably youthful rapport with tween characters in her second Hitchcock title, this time becoming talented 12-year-old gymnast Kate of Baton Rouge—and, just as deftly, Kate’s family and friends. When Kate’s worsening shoulder pain is diagnosed as Fibrodysplasia Ossificans Progressiva (FOP), a rare genetic disorder causing bones to gradually replace muscles and tissues, she understandably feels deprived of everything she most loves—from gymnastics to Girl Scouts. Adapting to a new normal will be the toughest ongoing challenge of Kate’s young life. Facebook enables a serendipitous connection with an adult with FOP—a clever insertion of coauthor Specht—who’s exactly the supportive, experienced friend Kate needs. Specht and Hitchcock reveal their collaborative connection in their authors’ notes. Real-life FOP expert Dr. Fred (Kaplan) appears as both character and resource. VERDICT Beyond FOP-specific details, any reader will find resonance with Kate’s shock, frustration, anger, and resilience.

VAIL, Rachel. Bad Best Friend. narrated by Mara Wilson. 7:14 hrs. Listening Library. May 2024. $20. ISBN 9780593795743.
Gr 5-7–Child star Wilson (Mrs. Doubtfire, Matilda ) made her audiobook debut with her 2016 memoir; over the last couple years, she’s been steadily building her credits with thoughtful narrations centering young adult women. That she’s been open about her own mental health challenges adds nuanced layers to Vail’s excavation of middle school friendships and family dynamics. Niki and Ava have been inseparable BFFs since third grade; suddenly in eighth, Ava’s choosing the Squad over Niki. If school wasn’t complicated enough, home life is further unbalanced: “I make my parents laugh, and my brother makes them worry.” Fourth grader Danny is struggling, although their mother refuses to let him be labeled (an autism diagnosis is forthcoming). Wilson revels in the (melo)drama, especially facile in performing Niki’s bewilderment, Ava’s manipulations, the Squad’s affectations, and boy-next-door Milo’s unexpected kindness; she’s absolutely (snarkily) convincing as posturing, pretentious parents. VERDICT Wilson’s Hollywood experience ultimately elevates Vail’s (over)dramatic cast.


Young Adult

ANCRUM, K. Icarus. narrated by Kirt Graves. 8:32 hrs. HarperAudio. Mar. 2024. $27.99. ISBN 9780063285811.
Gr 10 Up–Ancrum’s mythical flying boy is almost-18-year-old Icarus Gallagher who, by day, is a senior “only allowed to have friends that stayed at school” because, by night, he’s an impeccably trained (by his father) burglar of priceless art. For years, their main target has been cruel Stuart Black; one dark, thieving evening at the Black mansion, a boy in blue pajamas confronts Icarus. Helios is his father’s prisoner, desperate for companionship. Icarus can’t stay away. Ancrum surrounds Icarus with a significant cast, providing ample opportunities for versatile narrator Graves to create yearning Luca, confident Celestine, unpredictable Julian. Graves is gruff as myopic Angus, growling as vengeful Stuart. Graves deftly gifts Icarus and Helios with expansive range. Ehlers-Danlos syndrome is the named disability but it’s more seamless detail than narrative spotlight. VERDICT Ancrum inventively harnesses the flourishing popularity of contemporized Greek myths; Graves notably elevates the dysfunctions of father/son relationships.

CRONN-MILLS, Kirstin. Rules for Camouflage. narrated by Gail Shalan. 6:22 hrs. Hachette Audio. Jun. 2024. $24.99. ISBN 9781668641286.
Gr 9 Up–“WE’RE HERE. We’re weird. We don’t need to be fixed,” Shalan emphatically opens a high-octane performance—with copious FWOOSHING, cursing, emoji-laden (over)emoting, and notable instances of “hop off my wang”—as she manifests neurodivergent Evvie maneuvering high school. Mrs. Dearborn, whose biology class Evvie must pass to graduate, tops the threatening list as abusive bully. Her grandnephew, senior Vandal (his actual given name), continues the family tradition with next-level harassing. Luckily, Evvie’s also-neurodivergent mother and teacher-hero Rachel whose “brain is also unruly” are pillars of support. The aquarium where Evvie works with magnificent cephalopod Aretha—and a few fabulous humans—is a welcoming haven. Her best friendship with Ken is devolving, but her new romance with Blue flourishes. Like Aretha, Evvie must be a master of camouflage to navigate dangers—and joys. Plus Evvie knows: “Neurotypical people, you need us.” VERDICT Empowerment for and by unruly brains available here.

ENGLE, Margarita. Wild Dreamers. narrated by Zac Aleman, Andre Bellido, & Alejandra Reynoso. 2:15 hrs. S. & S. Audio. Apr. 2024. $14.99. ISBN 9781797177694.
Gr 7 Up–Leandro escaped Cuba on a boat with his family, but he’s convinced his en-route watery tumble caused his father’s drowning. Bellido embodies him as deep, anguished, hesitant, with just a hint of an accent. The voyage’s stowaway puppy was trained as Leandro’s therapy dog: “I hum a song/ into his hand/ until he understands,” Cielo the singing dog explains about Leandro’s panic attacks, soothingly voiced by Aleman. Ana, vulnerably ciphered by Reynoso—from dreamy to determined—is also fatherless, not because he’s dead but because she and her mother must stay hidden from the FBI-most-wanted domestic terrorist he’s become. The teens’ initial meeting in a moonlit park is magical, an instant connection that serendipitously continues when they rediscover each other at the same high school. Together, they help create a re-wilding group to assist local efforts in sustainably saving threatened wildlife. VERDICT A shining triumvirate enhances Engle’s tender, polyphonic journey.

GERVAIS, Alison. A Game Most Foul. narrated by Khristine Hvam. 12:30 hrs. HarperAudio. Jun. 2024. $27.99. ISBN 9780310159193.
Gr 9 Up–As one of just six anointed participants for a renowned writing program, almost 19-year-old Jules from Monterey, CA, arrives in London to stay with her great-aunt Adele for the summer. She’s initially unsure how others might react to her hearing aids, but she makes fast friends with enthusiastic Suruthi and reserved Percy. A class trip to Oxford turns tragic when classmate Ashley disappears in front of the “Narnia door,” and Jules is the last to see her. The police disappoint, so the trio commence their own investigation, including breaking into Professor Watson’s office, where they find—Sherlock Holmes. Let the sleuthing begin. Narrative lumps and bumps are prominent—little mention of London details; casual corpses; abandoned threads—but Hvam admirably commands attention to the inane ending with impressively distinct characterizations. Easily shifting between American and British accents, her energy remains infectious. VERDICT Audio provides the better solution for this one.

KAYLOR, Serena. The Calculation of You and Me. narrated by Stephanie Willing. 9:20 hrs. Dreamscape Audio. Jun. 2024. $45.95. ISBN 9798874752101.
Gr 9 Up–What began as a summer break solidifies into an official break-up on the first day of senior year. After two inseparable years, Josh dumps Marlowe, convincing her she isn’t “good at love.” Her mathematically inclined, neurodivergent mind reacts by attempting to formulate a foolproof solution to win him back. She convinces her AP English partner Ash that he needs to train her in romance—from writing heartfelt letters to cozy educational outings. Will reuniting with Josh still compute? The answers Marlowe seeks mean finally figuring out what she really wants. With her warm, slight southern twang, Willing immediately proves she’s ideally matched as “pathological people pleasing” Marlowe. She skillfully assays Marlowe’s orbit—entitled Josh, gently determined Ash, blunt BFFs Poppy and Odette, “delighted with her life” Ms. Chris, rebelling Blue, “perfect at being perfect” Momma. VERDICT Author and narrator symbiotically solve for irresistible true love.

KUEHNERT, Stephanie. Pieces of a Girl. narrated by Stephanie Kuehnert. 9:30 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2024. $27.50. ISBN 9780593907337.
Gr 9 Up–Novelist Kuehnert is ready to “tell real stories...about my life.” The book’s cover displays all the labels she’s tried on: “weirdo, sad, numb, damaged,” but also “artist, smart, strong.” Moving upward are “grrrl, resilient,” and—as yet unfinished—“survivor.” Kuehnert “always wanted to tell stories.” Third-grade Stephanie began mentally narrating her life, although doubted she was doing anything “interesting, book-worthy.” Eighth-grade Stephanie wrote poetry—and discovered safety pins and razor blades. Her “angry, bloody girlhood” skirted too close to a fatal adolescence (lasting until “more like twenty-four than eighteen”) of self-harm, addictions, toxic relationships. No one else but Kuehnert—pronounced Key-nert, as only she can so definitively assert—could have narrated the brutally raw, soul-decimating experiences with the transformative triumphs that buttress her to be “one of the girls who lived.” VERDICT In her own soul-baring voice, Kuehnert reassembles the Pieces of a Girl into wholeness.

MCGINNIS, Mindy. Under This Red Rock. narrated by Brittany Pressley. 9:26 hrs. HarperAudio. Mar. 2024. $27.99. ISBN 9780063230446.
Gr 10 Up–Ubiquitous Pressley—with 600 credits!—opens gently, announcing end-of-the-book resources and trigger warnings about suicide and suicidal ideation. Despite 16-year-old Neely’s first-person POV, she’s not a reliable narrator—mostly because she can’t trust the voices she hears. “Don’t react to them,” her father once warned, a rare moment when he “spoke of the seed of madness from which our family tree sprouts.” He eventually left; a car accident took her mother, and her older brother died by suicide. Only her kind grandparents are left. Grandpa encourages “honest work,” so Neely gets a job at the local caverns. And then a coworker is heinously murdered, and Neely was the last to kiss Mila—and see her alive. Pressley is a wondrous cipher for voices real and not, from the thirsty little girl, bewildered Grandma, charismatic Mila, abhorrent online incels, and, of course, lost, longing, determined Neely. VERDICT The book is good; Pressley’s audio is undoubtedly better.

PUCELLA WINANS, Justine. One Killer Problem. narrated by Katherine Littrell. 8:22 hrs. HarperAudio. Jun. 2024. $27.99. ISBN 9780063324510.
Gr 8 Up–Mr. Ford was the sole teacher who made Gigi believe she “was better than an angry, violent” person with “barely two brain cells to [her] name.” Now he’s dead, and Gigi’s sure it was no accident. The Westbridge High Mystery Club has never had an actual mystery to solve, but now they’re looking at murder—and the murderer starts targeting the club members as they approach the truth. All that violence might not seem funny, but the one-liners and zingers, especially about poop (Gigi has irritable bowel syndrome and doesn’t mind commenting often it) never stop. Neither do the constant didactic reminders against any remotely offensive language or situations, including self-chiding against ableism while lying in a hospital bed. Even Littrell doesn’t seem quite sure about the (inappropriate) timing, reading as if she’s got an eyebrow constantly raised. VERDICT Littrell remarkably manages the extensive cast, both endearing and exasperating.

SORTINO, Anna. On the Bright Side. narrated by Jesse Inocalla & Elizabeth Robbins. 8:40 hrs. Listening Library. Jul. 2024. $25. ISBN 9780593864517.
Gr 7 Up–Sortino and Robbins debuted together as author and narrator, respectively, in Give Me a Sign; they’re joined here by Inocalla for Sortino’s resonating she said/he said sophomore title. Although an opening note announces light sound effects will denote signing (italics are used in print), the effects are virtually indistinguishable. Robbins is a crisp, slightly prickly Ellie who’s boarded the last five years at an immersive Deaf school. Its closure means she’s returning home for senior year at the local public school. The difficult transition is further exacerbated by unaccommodating parents, losing her boyfriend, and finding Amber High almost unbearable. Initially tasked with showing Ellie around is (former) soccer star Jackson, earnestly, energetically personified by Inocalla. A surprisingly comfortable friendship grows—and develops into something more. And then he lands in the hospital. VERDICT Robbins and Inocalla deliver an engaging, empowering love story amid reminders that “anyone can become disabled at any time.”

VAN WAGENEN, Maya. Chronically Dolores. narrated by Maya Van Wagenen & Victoria Villarreal. 8:46 hrs. Listening Library. Mar. 2024. $25. ISBN 9780593793886.
Gr 7 Up–Prodigious Van Wagenen’s first novel opens with a droll dedication: “For my people—the young, wry, and chronically ill. At least we’re in excellent company.” Villarreal’s own excellence is immediate because, despite being a story with so much going wrong—reputations, communication, friendships, families—she audibly ensures much more will go absolutely right. Fourteen-year-old Dolores Mendoza has interstitial cystitis. She got labeled “piddler” after a middle-school bladder accident. Then she lost her BFF. When she meets Terpsichore Berkenbosch-Jones, the new girl’s directness causes more jolting embarrassment. Terpsichore has autism spectrum disorder, her overbearing mother’s excuse for constant surveillance. The new friends (but, are they?) hatch a mutually beneficial plan involving reunion and freedom. Villarreal gleefully, convincingly voices bathroom reviews, un-Catholic confessions, revisionist telenovela scenes, and more. Van Wagenen cameos to share her experiences living with interstitial cystitis and autism. VERDICT Expertly ciphered by Villarreal, Van Wagenen’s memorable crew proves indeed to be excellent company.

 

Adult Crossover

BLAKE, Melissa. Beautiful People: My Thirteen Truths About Disability. narrated by Melissa Blake. 6:51 hrs. Hachette Audio. Mar. 2024. $24.99. ISBN 9781668637425.
Adult/High School–Journalist and disability activist Blake was born with Freeman-Sheldon syndrome, a rare genetic bone and muscular disorder. In 2019, trolls attempted to silence her solely because of her appearance, but “they just empowered [her] to be more vocal—and go viral in the process.” In her first book, she’s “guided by two words: real and honest,” which also describes her chummy, engaging self-narration. Her quotables among her 13 “truths” are limitless: “Do use the world disabled. I feel respected. I feel seen. I feel valued.” “Disabled people are not burdens.” “Most ‘inspirational’ stories about disability are...dehumanizing and demeaning.” Posting selfies is “a revolutionary act...an act of demanding to be seen.” “People with disabilities deserve love and romance.” “The more I grow to love my body—the more I realize that the words disabled and beautiful totally belong in the same sentence.” “Wheelchairs...Are Freedom.” VERDICT Every library needs Blake’s disability primer in multiple formats.


Terry Hong was LJ's 2016 Reviewer of the Year for Fiction and Audio.


Featured image: cosmaa/Getty Images

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