The best disability/chronic illness rep in YA books

Karol Ruth Silverstein Author Of Cursed
By Karol Ruth Silverstein

Who am I?

A big motivation for writing Cursed was what I saw as a dearth of authentic disability and chronic illness rep in books for kids. Where were the characters who were angry, messy, scared? Where were the kids in real pain—physically, emotionally, socially—who maybe weren’t surrounded by supportive friends and family and maybe didn’t handle their diagnoses with grace? When I was first diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at thirteen, I was all of the above—and then some. I’ve identified as disabled for 30+ years and am active in various disability groups and spaces. It’s my pleasure to champion kids’ books with authentic disability and chronic illness representation. 


I wrote...

Cursed

By Karol Ruth Silverstein,

Book cover of Cursed

What is my book about?

I have this pathetic disease. Never mind what it’s called. Life doesn’t play by the rules, so fourteen-year-old Ricky decides she won’t either. Ricky’s rules allow for cursing, cutting school, and lying to the Disaster-Formerly-Known-As-Her-Parents. That is, until her truancy is discovered and she’s facing the threat of having to repeat ninth grade.

Loosely drawn from the author’s experience of being diagnosed with juvenile/arthritis as a young teen, Cursed is funny, frank, and full of f-bombs. An unsentimental take on the “sick kid” genre, it won the prestigious 2020 Schneider Family Book Award which celebrates “the artistic expression of the disability experience” in books for kids and teens.

The books I picked & why

Shepherd is reader supported. We may earn an affiliate commission when you buy through links on our website. This is how we fund this project for readers and authors (learn more).

Sick Kids In Love

By Hannah Moskowitz,

Book cover of Sick Kids In Love

Why this book?

It was such a pleasure to read about a teen navigating high school with arthritis, as I had. Better yet, a sweet, awkward romance is the heart of this book rather than its focus being on Isabel’s chronic illness. In my experience, life with chronic illness is just that—life, with all its ups, downs, pleasures, absurdities, etc. Sasha is a swoon-worthy love interest, and neither character’s chronic illness is downplayed or mined for soapy dramatics. There’s an authenticity here, particularly in the often mundane hospital scenes, that signifies this is an author who’s sharing, to at least some degree, her own lived experiences. 

Sick Kids In Love

By Hannah Moskowitz,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Sick Kids In Love as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

All the women in her family are heartbreakers, and she's destined to become one, too, if she's not careful. But when she goes to the hospital for her RA infusion, she meets a gorgeous, foul-mouthed boy who has her rethinking the no-dating rule and ready to risk everything.

Aleksander is chronically ill, too, and there's a softer side underneath all his jokes. Isabel finds herself unraveling the secrets of a real person, rather than crowd-sourcing her decisions through her online column Sick Girl Wants to Know.

They fall for each other hard and fast, but Isabel has known all along…

Breathe and Count Back from Ten

By Natalia Sylvester,

Book cover of Breathe and Count Back from Ten

Why this book?

Veronica dreams of getting a job as a mermaid in her Florida hometown’s famous mermaid tourist attraction. And I mean—who wouldn’t dream of that, especially since moving in water is so much easier than moving on land when you have hips dysplasia (which both this main character and author have)? I’ve always secretly wanted to work at an amusement park or tourist attraction and can seriously relate to the freedom that water brings to painful bodies. I loved living vicariously through Veronica as she trained in secret (her ultra-strict Peruvian parents definitely do not approve) and pursued her dream. Getting the gig is only half the battle. Veronica has to prove she can do the job to her fellow mermaids—and herself.

Breathe and Count Back from Ten

By Natalia Sylvester,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked Breathe and Count Back from Ten as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

In this gorgeously written and authentic novel, Veronica, a Peruvian-American teen with hip dysplasia, auditions to become a mermaid at a Central Florida theme park in the summer before her senior year, all while figuring out her first real boyfriend and how to feel safe in her own body.

Veronica has had many surgeries to manage her disability. The best form of rehabilitation is swimming, so she spends hours in the pool, but not just to strengthen her body.

Her Florida town is home to Mermaid Cove, a kitschy underwater attraction where professional mermaids perform in giant tanks . .…


Darius the Great Is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram,

Book cover of Darius the Great Is Not Okay

Why this book?

On the surface, I don’t have much in common with Darius or Khorram. Both are male, Persian, and gay. I’m none of those thingsand haven’t experienced clinical depression personallyyet I felt Darius’ sadness, longing, and social awkwardness in my bones—and heart. His story was one of tremendous tenderness that had me rooting for him from page one. Khorram does a brilliant job with highlighting the subtleties of depression and feeling lost without ever resorting to cliches or forced histrionics. 

Darius the Great Is Not Okay

By Adib Khorram,

Why should I read it?

8 authors picked Darius the Great Is Not Okay as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Darius Kellner speaks better Klingon than Farsi, and he knows more about Hobbit social cues than Persian ones. He's a Fractional Persian - half, his mum's side - and his first-ever trip to Iran is about to change his life. Darius has never really fit in at home, and he's sure things are going to be the same in Iran. His clinical depression doesn't exactly help matters, and trying to explain his medication to his grandparents only makes things harder. Then Darius meets Sohrab, the boy next door, and everything changes. Soon, they're spending their days together, playing soccer, eating…

We Rule the Night

By Claire Eliza Bartlett,

Book cover of We Rule the Night

Why this book?

Confession: I’m not a big fantasy reader. I was drawn to this book because there was a disability rep in it—and thank God!—as it ended up being one of my favorite books in recent years. Part steampunk dystopian war story, part feminist manifesto, We Rule the Night is riveting the entire way through. One of the dual protagonists, Revna, is an amputee whose prosthetic legs are made of sentient metal—one of two different kinds of magic in the utterly fascinating world Bartlett has created. Renva and her flight partner in the war effort, Linné, are both completely badass and unapologetic. 

We Rule the Night

By Claire Eliza Bartlett,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked We Rule the Night as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

After a century of growth, trade union membership and influence have begun to decline in most of the economically advanced countries. This comprehensive analysis of membership trends covers developing as well as industrialized countries. The author's thesis is that the unions have failed to pay sufficient attention to the concerns of a labor force that is more educated, with a higher participation of women, and with a greater concern for job security than was true in the past.


The Moth Girl

By Heather Kamins,

Book cover of The Moth Girl

Why this book?

In this diagnosis story, author Kamins chooses to use a fictional illness—lepidopsy—to perfectly emulate the otherworldly confusion and uncertainty of being diagnosed with a disease you have no context for. Suddenly, everything changes for Anna. Nothing makes sense. It’s disorienting, uncomfortable, and terrifying. I loved how the book shows the character figuring out how to navigate this new life step by step by misstep. Despite the fictional illness, Anna’s journey feels incredibly real.

The Moth Girl

By Heather Kamins,

Why should I read it?

1 author picked The Moth Girl as one of their favorite books, and they share why you should read it.

What is this book about?

Flying doesn’t always mean freedom.
 

Anna is a regular teenaged girl. She runs track with her best friend, gets good grades, and sometimes drinks beer at parties.
 
But one day at track practice, Anna falls unconscious . . . but instead of falling down, she falls up, defying gravity in the disturbing first symptom of a mysterious disease.
 
This begins a series of trips to the hospital that soon become Anna’s norm. She’s diagnosed with lepidopsy: a rare illness that causes symptoms reminiscent of moths: floating, attraction to light, a craving for sugar, and for an unlucky few, more dangerous…

5 book lists we think you will like!

Interested in life satisfaction, isolation, and war?

6,000+ authors have recommended their favorite books and what they love about them. Browse their picks for the best books about life satisfaction, isolation, and war.

Life Satisfaction Explore 130 books about life satisfaction
Isolation Explore 14 books about isolation
War Explore 231 books about war

And, 3 books we think you will enjoy!

We think you will like The Giver, All the Bright Places, and The Dangerous Art of Blending In if you like this list.