16 Middle Grade and YA Books Featuring Non-Apparent Disabilities for Disability Pride Month

Non-apparent disabilities are those that aren't visible from the outside, such as chronic or mental illness. These 16 titles include a diverse range of stories about young people living with non-apparent disabilities.

Non-apparent disabilities are those that aren't visible from the outside, such as chronic or mental illness. These 16 titles include a diverse range of stories about young people living with non-apparent disabilities.


Middle Grade

Frankie’s World: A Graphic Novel by Aoife Dooley. illus. by author. Scholastic/Graphix. ISBN 9781338813111. 
Gr 3-6–Eleven-year-old Frankie is a sweet yet socially awkward girl living in Ireland. She’s been told she talks too much and has a habit of saying the wrong thing at the wrong time; she never quite feels like she fits in, and the mean girls at school are quick to call her “weird” and “freak.” Dooley, who is autistic, presents a positive journey to self-discovery and an autism diagnosis, depicted as a moment of enlightenment rather than a grim delivery. VERDICT An excellent first purchase for graphic novel collections.

We Could Be Heroes by Margaret Finnegan. S. & S./ Atheneum. ISBN 9781534445253.
Gr 4-6–Ten-year-old Hank Hudson has autism and is easily overwhelmed when his routine is disrupted. He’s surprised and excited when the new girl at school invites him over to her house, only to become demonstratively distraught when she tries to convince him to steal Booler, her neighbor’s epileptic dog. VERDICT This touching, often humorous debut addresses both autism and epilepsy without making them an overwhelming theme. An excellent choice for a classroom read-aloud.

 The Storyteller by Brandon Hobson. Scholastic. ISBN 9781338797268. 
Gr 3-7–Ziggy is a member of the Cherokee nation living with anxiety and still processing the grief of his mother’s disappearance when he was a baby. Determined to find clues about her, Ziggy teams up with school misfit Alice to explore caves his mother once explored. What unfolds is a series of encounters with various magical creatures. VERDICT Hand to tweens who enjoy magical realism and quest stories. Ziggy’s experiences with anxiety and loss will likely resonate with many.

 What About Will by Ellen Hopkins. Putnam. ISBN 9780593108642. 
Gr 5 Up–Twelve-year-old Trace’s family is shattered when beloved older brother Will suffers a traumatic brain injury during a high school football game. Will, struggling with pain and depression, takes up with a rough crowd and starts stealing from Trace. VERDICT A realistic, emotionally charged portrait of a family divided and their fragile steps toward a shared future. Recommended for middle grade collections.

Fight + Flight by Jules Machias. HarperCollins/Quill Tree. ISBN 9780063053946. 
Gr 5 Up–Everyone has something going on, and some more than others. Athletic Avery has hypermobile Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, a painful chronic condition that affects her joints. Sarah has anxiety and experiences panic attacks that she tries to manage by creating art. They both feel as if they are losing control, Avery of her body and Sarah of her mind. VERDICT A solid, character-driven choice for libraries that tackles tough topics with skill and nuance.

 Honestly Elliott by Gillian McDunn. Bloomsbury. ISBN 9781547606252. 
Gr 4-7–Elliott is your typical kid dealing with his parents’ divorce, his best friend moving away, a baby brother being born, not fitting in at his new school, nearly failing sixth grade—and on top of it all, Attention Deficient Hyperactivity Disorder. VERDICT This is a must-have for any library servicing middle grade readers; Elliot’s struggles are commonplace, and his story is told from a place of warmth and humor, which makes those realities a little less painful and the lessons included easier to digest.

[Read: 12 Books for Kids and Tweens That Celebrate Neurodiverse Minds] 

 A Kind of Spark by Elle McNicoll. Crown. ISBN 9780593374252. 
Gr 5 Up–Middle schooler Addie is autistic, and this year will be one of great change. Will Addie be able to pull strength from her family and herself while facing opposition from school and the city council because of her autism? This deeply honest, at times painful story brings a much-needed look at middle school from the perspective of neurodiverse students. VERDICT A first purchase in middle grade collections; a must-read for students and adults alike.

 Aniana del Mar Jumps In by Jasminne Mendez. Dial. ISBN 9780593531815. 
Gr 5-9–Acclaimed Dominican American poet Mendez’s novel in verse centers around the coming-of-age struggles of a Latinx tween pushing against the expectations of a strict (and loving) family, while also figuring out her identity as an athlete with chronic illness. VERDICT The nuanced depiction of disability, intergenerational conflict, and family trauma make this a must-have for all middle grade shelves.

The Unforgettable Logan Foster by Shawn Peters. Harper. ISBN 9780063047679. 
Gr 3-7–What starts as a story about a kid in the foster care system trying to find a family morphs into an action-packed superhero adventure. Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder and developmental coordination disorder, Logan always has lots of questions. VERDICT An engaging superhero story with the message that, sometimes, not fitting in and seeing the world differently are gifts that just might help save the planet.

The View from the Very Best House in Town by Meera Trehan. Candlewick/Walker. ISBN 9781536219241. 
Gr 4-6–Sam and Asha have always been friends, drawn together by their unique personalities, and possibly because they are both on the autism spectrum. VERDICT A thought-provoking look at bullying and social pressures through the eyes of its victims and of an inanimate, yet opinionated, mansion that will ring true with many readers.


Young Adult

 Parenthesis by Élodie Durand. tr. from French by Edward Gauvin. illus. by author. Top Shelf Comics. ISBN 9781603094818.
Gr 10 Up–Durand offers a poignant account of her struggle with epilepsy in her early 20s, the brain surgeries required to excise the tumor responsible, and a grueling recovery that left her disabled for years. VERDICT A feat of the graphic medicine genre, capturing the intersection of personal experience of illness with the technical aspects of medical treatment. A superb addition that emotionally mature readers will find compelling.

Unseelie by Ivelisse Housman. Inkyard. ISBN 9781335428592.
Gr 6 Up–The popular theory that changeling folklore was originally produced to explain the existence of autism is the basis for this fantasy novel. Iselia or “Seelie” and her sister Isolde are living on the run since they were cast out of their small village due to prejudice against Seelie, who was a changeling swapped for Isolde. VERDICT Hand to fans of Soman Chainani’s The School for Good and Evil and fantasy fans looking for autistic representation.

 The Immeasurable Depth of You by Maria Ingrande Mora. Peachtree Teen. ISBN 9781682635421.
Gr 9 Up–Brynn lives with a list of mental health diagnoses (ADHD, OCD, SAD, GAD, to name a few) that she carries like an anchor, sure she is bringing down her mother, as she hides on Tumblr away from other people. After Brynn posts an emotional message in a moment of darkness, her best online friend contacts her mom, and she is sent to her father’s for the summer. VERDICT A compelling story highlighting the raw reality of living with mental illness. Recommended first purchase for all collections serving older teens.

The Moth Girl by Heather Kamins. Putnam. ISBN 9780593109366.
Gr 9 Up–Anna has a chronic illness—invented by the author (and explained in an afterword), whose novel explores permanent and life-threatening illness. VERDICT A tenth grader’s sudden diagnosis of a fictitious condition gives readers an opportunity to see what it takes to manage a chronic illness; also recommended for readers seeking to understand living with a chronic condition—their own or someone close to them.

 We Are All So Good at Smiling by Amber McBride. Feiwel & Friends. ISBN 9781250780386. 
Gr 9 Up–After her parents discover a list Whimsy wrote of ways to stop breathing, she is in the hospital again for clinical depression. She meets fellow patient Faerry, a boy who she perceives as having magical qualities. As they begin their healing journey together, they recognize their lives are interwoven by past trauma. VERDICT This phenomenal novel-in-verse transports readers into an impassioned tale of heartache and hope that belongs on every bookshelf serving teens.

The Art of Insanity by Christine Webb. Peachtree Teen. ISBN 9781682634578.
Gr 9 Up–High school senior Natalie Cordova has two secrets. One is that she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, something her mother doesn’t want her to share. The other has to do with her car accident over the summer. Sophomore Ella saw the accident happen and knows the second secret—it was Natalie’s suicide attempt. VERDICT Highly recommended for library collections, this novel would make for excellent discussions.  

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