Unbroken is an anthology that “explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators.” It has 13 stories and I wrote something after I read each one, so this ‘review’ will come in three parts: An Overview, Stories 1-6 and Stories 7-13.
[As always, please be patient with me as I learn to write about any Creators and Characters who differ from me, as well as Narratives that differ from my own. Constructive feedback is always welcome, and occasionally heeded.]
FSG, 2018. Hardcover, 320 pages. YA Anthology.
Representation matters. It matters to those who rarely, if ever, get to see themselves in a book; and it matters to those who only see themselves in a book. How someone is represented is important. Are they centered and leading or relegated to issues, problematic relatives, side-kicks, foils, villains?
In Unbroken, I read my first story (outside a message-ridden picture book) where the hero is confined to a wheelchair. In “The Leap and the Fall” by Kayla Whaley, said hero is also female, and lesbian. The story is coming-of-age, you know: horror, action, romance. And if you wonder why #ownvoices is a thing: there are subtle details I feel certain that another author would have missed or overemphasized in their earnest attempt to provide authenticity. Not that there are lot of people writing disabled characters as protagonists. Every story in Unbroken will center a disabled protagonist, and it will mind intersectionality while doing so.
Unbroken writes historical, contemporary, fantasy, urban fantasy, horror, supernatural, science, romance. It captures first- and third-person narratives–in prose and one as a script.
Unbroken sets stories: along the historic trade routes of Asia; bicycle paths; an abandoned carnival in the woods; under siege on another planet; on a haunted stage; on an Islamic pilgrimage; during the construction of a dragon’s perch; on a park bench; in the emails of a romance columnist; as a script; in a parish; in a household in hiding; alongside 3 wishes.
The disabilities are described/identified in breadth: anxiety, autism, bipolar, blind, cerebral palsy, chronic pain, irritable bowel syndrome, neurodiverse, post-accident rehabilitation, schizophrenia… We’ll read characters with canes, meds, amulets, bandages, and a wheelchair; some have parents, siblings, best friends, love interests.
The protagonists are bike nerds, manga collectors, country music fans, coders, actors, writers, carpenters, sculptors, elder sisters, youngest sisters, communicators with the dead, weather summoners, wish-granters, romantic interests, sons, grandsons, best friends…
Protagonists and significant characters vary in their presentation of gender and sexuality; they are diverse in skin tone, culture, and religious beliefs. What does not vary is the need to be seen and known, and not be alone.
Like any anthology, some stories will resonate more than others. I was pleasantly surprised by the percentage of stories I effortlessly enjoyed. And editor Marieke Nijkamp did a great job in arranging the short story order. The first story sets a good tone thematically, and I appreciate beginning with a story set in a historical context—disabled bodies have always had a presence. Nijkamp avoids neighboring genres, themes, and disabilities—not that each voice isn’t distinct, but the editor is mindful of emphasizing each one. The result is also refreshing, if one story isn’t your thing, the next will hold your attention and reinvigorate your continuation through the collection. The seventh story (Nijkamp’s own) removes us from the contemporary space and offers a drink of straight-up fantasy. Placing novelist Francisco X. Stork as the eighth story in was also smart because he is skilled in the short story form.
As I was reading, there were several I thought would make excellent short films (animated or live-action) or graphic novels; a few I’d love to see expanded into a longer form, or read that author in longer form.
Unbroken is an excellent anthology. It’s a strong collection of stories, and its rarity only ups its value. I hope Unbroken will see more like it, and that the anthologies will accompany longer works and invite publisher’s to bring more creators, perspectives and narratives to the bookstore and library shelves.
Notes on Stories 1-6 and Stories 7-13.
An Article to read at CBC Diversity “We are Unbroken: YA Authors Get Honest about Disability”: “Marieke and fellow contributors share what disability means to them and what they hope readers take away from their stories.”