23 New And Upcoming Novels With Disabled Main Characters

For Disability Awareness Month, check out these new and forthcoming novels featuring disabled main characters.

At the End of Everything by Marieke Nijkamp

The Hope Juvenile Treatment Center may claim to rehabilitate juvenile delinquents, but their treatment of the teens in their care is borderline abusive. When a plague sweeps the world, instead of informing the teenagers of the problem, the guards and every adult associated with the center abandon them, leaving them with very little food or medical supplies. When a group tries to leave the center, one of them is shot out of fear that they might be contagious. The defiant Grace is appointed as de facto leader of the center, while Leah, nonverbal and autistic, takes over food distribution after her twin sister is the first to come down with the plague. Emerson, a nonbinary violinist kicked out of their home by their strict Catholic parents, takes up the responsibility of burying the dead. This compulsive YA postapocalyptic novel shows how the "problem" teens society would rather forget can step up and make things better when given the respect they deserve.

Dead Silence by S.A. Barnes

This intense sci-fi horror is like Titanic meets Alien 2. Claire Kovalik is bringing her team home at the end of her last deep space mission when the ship picks up a distress signal from an area yet to be explored. They follow the signal and discover a luxury space-liner that has been missing for decades. It’s clear from the onsite that something tragic has happened on board, but Claire orders a search of the ship to both secure their rights to a finder’s fee and to search for survivors. Blood and ghosts greet Claire when she boards the liner, though she initially blames the ghosts on her PTSD from a childhood tragedy. However, when other crew members begin hallucinating and hearing whispers in the dark, Claire worries something more sinister is going on. The audiobook read by Lauren Ezzo makes for compulsive, edge-of-seat listening.

All the Right Reasons by Bethany Mangle

Cara’s parents recently underwent a messy divorce after her dad cheated on her mom. When Cara posts a long rant about her dad on social media and it goes viral, a TV producer takes notice and invites Cara and her mom — who are Korean American — to participate in a reality dating show for single parents as the main contestants. They’re flown to Florida to narrow down the list of contestants, but then Cara finds herself falling for one of the contestant’s sons, Connor, who has Ehlers-Danlos syndrome. This is definitely against the rules. This lighthearted YA romance is super sweet and fun.

Gallant by V.E. Schwab (March 1)

This delightfully dark YA gothic may very well be my favorite by this prolific author. Olivia Prior cannot speak, and because no one at the wretched Merilance School for Girls knows sign language, she has no one to communicate with. When she receives a letter from an uncle she never knew she had, inviting her to his home, Gallant, she eagerly accepts his invitation, more than ready to be free of the mundanity and sometimes even cruelty of daily life at Merilance. She carries with her the strange diary her mother gave her when she left Olivia at Merilance, as well as her ability to see ghouls. When she arrives at Gallant, she finds no uncle waiting for her, but rather a raving cousin who wants her gone, two kind housekeepers — one of whom signs and so can communicate with Olivia — and a haunting mystery in the garden. She also sees ghouls of her long-lost family, and they all seem to be warning her away. With nowhere else to go, Olivia sets out to solve the house’s mystery.

Nowhere to Hide by Nell Pattison (March 1)

This intense thriller takes place on Boxing Day when seven friends decide to go on a hike in a nature reserve to watch a murmuration of starlings. Lauren works at the reserve and has only recently begun speaking to her sister Emily, who is Deaf, after 10 years of separation. Morna is an older volunteer at the reserve, and Ben has a crush on Emily. Alec is a birdwatching fanatic while Dan is still grieving for the deaths of his wife and son. Kai joins the hike but has trouble fitting in. The group separates into smaller groups to try and spot the birds, but when one of them is shot and dies, the groups panic, trying to escape the reserve before the next person becomes a victim.

One for All by Lillie Lainoff (March 8)

I could not be more excited about this novel, the first traditionally published book with a main character that has the same disability I do, postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). The author also has POTS. Inspired by The Three Musketeers, the novel follows a group of girls who become the king's undercover musketeers in 17th century France. When Tania de Batz's father, a former musketeer, dies under mysterious circumstances, her mother sends her to what she believes is a women's finishing school in Paris. Having trained in sword fighting with her father for most of her life, she's very disappointed that she’s been sent to a women's school to learn manners. However, when she arrives at L'Académie des Mariées, she finds not a finishing school but a secret operation where girls like Tania are trained to become musketeers. At first, her only goal is to discover who murdered her father and bring him to justice. However, as she learns more about the other three girls training to be musketeers, she begins to find the support and encouragement she's always longed for and deserved. Her fellow musketeers become more than just a backdrop to revenge; they become her family. This YA novel is an action-packed, enthralling adventure with both disability and lesbian representation. The audiobook is narrated by actor Mara Wilson, who also has POTS.

The Moth Girl by Heather Kamins (March 8)

In this beautifully written YA novel about life with a chronic illness, Anna, a quiet girl who runs track and excels in school, is diagnosed with a rare fictional illness called lepidopsy when she passes out at a track meet and falls up instead of down. The illness causes mothlike symptoms, such as attraction to light and sugar cravings, but it also causes symptoms reminiscent of many chronic illnesses, like brain fog, fatigue, and pain. As she navigates frequent doctor visits, side effects from new medications, and her increasingly alarming condition, she experiences ableism from her family and friends who just don’t understand why she can’t be her old self anymore. Through the lens of a fictional illness, the novel depicts universal experiences of living with chronic illness.

Lakelore by Anna-Marie McLemore (March 8)

This lovely YA contemporary fantasy centers two neurodiverse trans nonbinary Mexican American teens. Bastián, who has ADHD, creates alebrijes (Mexican animal sculptures) to help calm their spinning thoughts and relieve their anxiety. However, their alebrijes come to populate Lakelore, the town’s lake, and form a magical landscape there. Lore, who has dyslexia, has just moved back to the town. After an incident with a bully when they were a child, they experienced the lake’s magic. Lore’s family has moved after a violent incident that haunts Lore and causes them PTSD. When the lake’s magic explodes and begins to haunt Bastián and Lore’s steps, the two must find a way to come to terms with their past traumas and embrace their unique ways of looking at the world. McLemore also describes their own dyslexia and ADHD in the book's back matter.

True Biz by Sara Nović (April 5)

This powerful novel about the Deaf community entwines multiple stories of students and educators at the River Valley School for the Deaf. February is the head of the school. She lives on campus with her wife and her mother, who has dementia. She’s dealing with the possible imminent closure of the school, the weight of taking care of her mother, and with marriage difficulties. Austin comes from a long line of former River Valley students, and his family are proud members of the Deaf community, which is why he’s so shocked when his sister is born hearing. Charlie, a new transfer student, has never learned to sign. Her parents believed a cochlear implant would be enough, but she’s always struggled in public schools and now she finds herself transferred to River Valley.

All the Shining People by Kathy Friedman (April 5)

This collection of 13 short stories centers Toronto’s Jewish South African community, and many of the characters also have mental illnesses. From a trans man traveling to Mexico to visit his partner’s family to an Afrikaner’s bat mitzvah and a son grappling with his father’s history as a political prisoner, these stories depict a range of experiences and identities. They beautifully capture the intersections of identity, immigration, and mental health.

The Sign for Home by Blair Fell (April 5)

Arlo Dilly is a 23-year-old just starting community college. He’s DeafBlind, a Jehovah’s Witness, and under the guardianship of his controlling uncle, which he’s not wild about. He chooses a new interpreter, Cyril, to help his uncle’s choice of interpreter with his course load. Cyril advocates for Arlo’s freedom of choice and informs him of some things his uncle’s interpreter has hidden from Arlo. Meanwhile, Arlo’s uncle finds out Cyril is gay, and he’s not happy about it. After a school assignment, Arlo is haunted by repressed memories of a girl he once fell in love with years earlier at a boarding school for the Deaf. When she disappeared, he was bereft, and he’s not sure he’s ever going to have a chance to fall in love again. This is a unique coming-of-age romance.

Chiara in the Dark by Maya Chhabra (April 16)

This lovely and accessible YA verse novel describes a young girl’s OCD. Chiara is in her senior year of high school dreaming of ice skating in college and having fun with her best friend Olivia when intrusive thoughts begin to break through her equilibrium. She’s babysitting a neighbor’s toddler and keeps imagining hurting her. Her parents want her to go to therapy, but Chiara isn’t so sure she wants to share her dark thoughts aloud. However, with intervention, Chiara learns she has OCD, but the therapy isn’t easy, and her immigrant parents, though supportive, struggle to understand what’s going on.

Forging Silver Into Stars by Brigid Kemmerer (May 3)

This first book in a new YA fantasy series takes place in the same universe as the Cursebreakers trilogy. Jax and Callyn are best friends who live in a small village distant from Syhl Shallow’s royal court, though that doesn’t mean they can avoid politics. Both of Callyn’s parents have died as a result of the Queen marrying a magic user. When a member of a rebel group who wants the king deposed propositions Jax to hold a letter for him and hand it off to another group member, Jax finds himself in the midst of an underground courier system, and soon Callyn is dragged into the scheming too. However, the courageous and honest Tycho, the royal courier, has them questioning whether the rumors they’ve always believed about the king could be true, especially when Jax begins falling for Tycho. The Cursebreakers trilogy has a main character with cerebral palsy, while in this new series Jax has had a leg amputated.

The Many Half-Lived Lives of Sam Sylvester by Maya MacGregor (May 3)

Nonbinary and autistic teen Sam is nervous about moving to a small town in Oregan with their dad, especially after what happened in the last small town they lived in. Sam is pleasantly surprised when they immediately make a few friends, including their attractive next-door neighbor Shep. However, when Sam learns a teenage boy named Billy died under mysterious circumstances thirty years earlier in the house Sam and their dad now live in, and that Billy’s case remains unsolved, Sam decides to investigate with the help of their newfound friends. When Sam begins receiving threatening notes and messages, they know they’re close to the truth. This is a super-fun and queer found-family YA mystery.

Breathe and Count Back From Ten by Natalia Sylvester (May 10)

Verónica, who’s had multiple surgeries due to her hip dysplasia, loves being in the water. She spends much of her time swimming and longs to audition to be a mermaid at Mermaid Cove, the main attraction in her Florida town. However, she knows her overly protective Peruvian parents will never agree to let her audition, but her younger sister and a friend support her dream and help her access Mermaid Cove. Another thing her parents won’t be wild about is Verónica’s feelings for a new boy, Alex. This contemporary YA mermaid tale based on the author’s experiences is both heartwarming and empowering.

Summer’s Edge by Dana Mele (May 31)

Chelsea has a close-knit group of friends that have been friends forever. However, when one of them, Emily, dies in a fire in her girlfriend’s lake house, their friendships are shattered. After the fire, Chelsea is involuntarily admitted into a psychiatric hospital with severe PTSD, depression, and suicidal ideation. A year later, the lake house has been rebuilt, and Chelsea and the four remaining friends decide to return to honor Emily’s memory, despite the fractures between them. At the lake house, Chelsea begins seeing ghosts, and as the friends relate what’s happened to them over the past year, it seems like someone has been trying to send them a message about what really happened the night Emily died. This eerie YA gothic will keep readers up late. Mele also has another book releasing this year with disabled characters, Tragic, a queer graphic novel retelling of Hamlet with mental illness representation.

Just by Looking at Him by Ryan O'Connell (June 7)

Elliott, who has cerebral palsy, is living what should be his best life: He’s wealthy, has written a popular TV show, and lives in LA with the attentive Gus, his long-term boyfriend. However, Elliot struggles with alcoholism and internalized ableism. To prove to himself that he’s attractive as a disabled man, he begins cheating on Gus with sex workers. The only way out of the hole he’s dug for himself is to confront his feelings about being disabled. O’Connell manages to blend weighty topics with his trademark humor.

We Weren't Looking to Be Found by Stephanie Kuehn (June 21)

Dani, who comes from a wealthy Black family, and Camila, who comes from a poor Colombian American family, could not be more different. Camila strives to be the best at everything she can, while Dani can find much interest in anything but using. They become roommates at Peach Tree Hills, a treatment center in rural Georgia. In their room, they find a music box full of letters from a former resident. Together, they pour over her letters and try to piece together the mystery of her life.

You, Me, and Our Heartstrings by Melissa See (July 19)

Daisy, a violinist with cerebral palsy, and Noah, a cellist with anxiety, hope to land auditions at Julliard. They’re chosen to play a duet at a holiday concert and at first clash on their approach. Daisy loves contemporary twists, while Noah prefers traditional pieces. However, when they play together, something clicks, and a video of their performance goes viral. This should be a good thing and improve their chances at auditioning, but instead of commenting on her music, people focus on Daisy’s disability, praising Noah for seeing past it and calling Daisy an inspiration. Daisy is tired of people judging her by her disability, and all the attention has Noah’s anxiety spiraling. Meanwhile, the two may be beginning to fall for one another. This is the sweetest YA contemporary romance that tackles daily issues disabled people experience.

Long Story Short by Serena Kaylor (July 26)

Beatrice Quinn, a neurodiverse 16-year-old, is a homeschooled mathematical genius. She can’t wait to attend Oxford in the fall, but her parents have some reservations. Beatrice rarely socializes, and they don’t want to send her across the ocean with no social skills to speak of. So they propose a compromise: Beatrice can attend Oxford University only if she joins the Connecticut Shakespearean Summer Academy. They also give her a list of social milestones to check off while at the summer camp. In preparation, Beatrice reads all of Shakespeare’s plays twice. Once there, a group of theater kids adopt her, but she almost immediately makes enemies with one of the most popular theater kids and the son of one of the camp’s founders. This YA romantic comedy is such a sweet and fun read. Author Serena Kaylor has an excellent discussion about why she decided not to give Beatrice a specific diagnosis on Twitter.

The First Thing About You by Chaz Hayden (Sept. 6)

In this YA contemporary romance, 15-year-old Harris wants to be known for more than his wheelchair and his spinal muscular atrophy at his new school. New Jersey is very different than California, and Harris wants a new beginning. To make the type of friends he wants, he asks everyone their favorite color and decides to surround himself with yellows, oranges, and reds, people who could spice up his blue life. He also hires a new nurse, Miranda, who seems like the perfect companion at first. She encourages him to talk to Nory Fischer, the girl Harris has a crush on. However, it also seems like she might be hiding something from Harris.

The Whispering Dark by Kelly Andrew (Nov. 1)

In this lyrical, dark academia, Delaney Meyers-Petrov, who is Deaf, could not be more thrilled to be accepted into the prestigious Godbole University, which teaches students how to travel between parallel worlds. However, when she arrives, she’s disappointed to find the professors are unaccommodating to her disability while her peers gawk at her unusual abilities. Worst of all, the obnoxious and pretentious Colton Price also attends the university. After a childhood accident, he’s been forbidden to even talk to Delaney, which of course makes him even more drawn to her. When a student appears to have been murdered, despite everything trying to pull them apart, Delaney and Colton find themselves teaming up to uncover the university’s secrets and the enemy that lurks between parallel worlds.

The Marble Queen by Anna Kopp (Nov. 22)

In this sapphic YA fantasy graphic novel, Princess Amelia, who has an anxiety disorder, agrees to marry into the royal family of Iliad to save her home country Marion from pirate invasions. When she lands on the shores of Iliad, she’s shocked to find not a prince waiting to marry her but Queen Salira, the ruler of the country and a woman. As war looms for both their lands, Amelia tries to understand the feelings she has for her now-wife, as well as the darkness that Salira tries to keep secret from her.

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  • Margaret Kingsbury

    Margaret Kingsbury is a freelance writer, editor, and all-around book nerd based in Nashville. In addition to BuzzFeed Books, her pieces have appeared at Book Riot, Star Trek, Parents, The Lily, SFWA, and more. She runs a children’s bookstagram account @BabyLibrarians and aspires to write both children’s books and fantasy, if she can ever wrangle enough time to do so between working, reading, and parenting. Follow her on Twitter @areaderlymom.

    Contact Margaret Kingsbury at rebolini+kingsbury@buzzfeed.com.

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