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Accidents of Nature


Accidents of Nature

Seventeen-year-old Jean has always believed she is the same as everyone else, even though she has cerebral palsy and has to get around in a wheelchair. Jean goes to a normal high school, is in academic clubs, and likes to go to the movies with her friends. She has never known another person living with a disability until she goes to Camp Courage during the summer of 1970 and begins to see herself, and the world around her, in a whole new light. There she meets a whole community of other children and young adults living with various disabilities.

When Jean arrives at the camp, she first encounters Dolly, a girl with severe CP who provides some comical moments throughout the book, as she likes to talk about her love of late-night talk show host Johnny Carson and her highly anticipated risque novella she's been writing. Then Jean meets Sara, a Camp Courage veteran who introduces her to the "Crip Camp" and some other campers. She nicknames Jean "Spazzo" and tells her about some of the social circles that make up the camp. Jean soon discovers that her wisecracking cabin mate has radical ideas, especially when it comes to how people with disabilities are viewed by society, and is often angry by the lack of respect that she and many other campers receive. Through the social commentary on this topic and many others in the book, it is not too difficult to see what issues have been dramatically improved since 1970 and which are still being debated today in 2006.

While Jean socializes with the other campers, she begins to question some of her old beliefs and what the definition of "normal" is in her world. By the end of those enlightening 10 days, her life is changed forever.

While there are some social issues in ACCIDENTS OF NATURE that may make some readers uncomfortable, such as the dance party scene (I thought some of those counselors would have been sued today for misconduct and sexual harassment), this is a great story and an eye-opener. It helps to show that even if a person has a physical or mental challenge, it does not mean that they can't lead a normal life nor does it mean that they shouldn't be given the same level of respect as everyone else. I understand this unfortunate social disgrace because I've been there.

Harriet McBryde Johnson has been an activist for disability rights for many years, and her adult memoir, TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, was published in 2005. ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is highly recommended as an addition to your "must read" list.

Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle on May 2, 2006

Accidents of Nature
by Harriet McBryde Johnson

  • Publication Date: May 2, 2006
  • Genres: Fiction
  • Hardcover: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Henry Holt and Co. (BYR)
  • ISBN-10: 0805076344
  • ISBN-13: 9780805076349