Accidents of Nature
Accidents of Nature
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Annotation: Having always prided herself on blending in with "normal" people despite her cerebral palsy, seventeen-year-old Jean begins to question her role in the world while attending a summer camp for children with disabilities.
Catalog Number: #4448761
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Publisher: Henry Holt & Co.
Copyright Date: 2006
Edition Date: 2006
Pages: 240
Availability: Available
ISBN: 0-8050-7634-4
ISBN 13: 978-0-8050-7634-9
Dewey: Fic
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Seventeen-year-old Jean, who has never let cerebral palsy hold her back, has spent her whole life trying to minimize her differences. Then she attends Camp Courage, a retreat for the disabled, where she forms an alliance with a wheelchair-bound firebrand named Sara, who subversively shuns Norm society's palaver about overcoming obstacles: Say it loud, I'm crippled and proud!' Unlike Ron Koertge's Stoner & Spaz (2002), also about a teen with CP, the characters here, especially caustic, diatribe-prone Sara, are present primarily to advance lines of debate, and the novel's 1970 setting will leave many teens wondering how philosophies about disability may have evolved. Still, readers will grow fond of Jean as, nudged by vibrant friends, she trades pious striving for empowering irreverence and struggles to reconcile yearnings to fit in with oddly thrilling new ideas: Surely it makes sense to try to become as normal as possible. But what if normal isn't the only way to be?
Horn Book
Seventeen-year-old Jean, who has cerebral palsy, goes to "Norm" school and has "normal" friends. When she attends Camp Courage for physically and mentally disabled kids, she befriends Sara, who challenges her rose-colored beliefs about the non-handicapped world. Though the narrative is occasionally overrun by its own agenda, it offers some unique perspectives on the non-handicapped's condescending approach to "helping."
Kirkus Reviews
At 17, Jean has lived in an able-bodied world, despite her limitations with cerebral palsy. Supportive, loving parents have always treated her as normal. They insist she attend regular school, participating as much as possible in regular activities, albeit as an enthusiastic bystander, and generally live a life filled with friends and academic success. But during the summer before her senior year, Jean is exposed to the realities of a disabled life at Camp Courage, otherwise known by Sara, an eight-year veteran, as "Crip Camp." Johnson, an attorney for the disabled, creates a psychological and emotional environment through her two main characters where anger, sympathy, frustration, love and self-esteem are all enmeshed within the typical coming-of-age trials of adolescence, accentuated here by the difficulties of physical disability. Jean's first-person narration delineates a confident, rosy outlook, shattered as she observes her campmates and ultimately is forced to face life with new strength and resolve. Candid and very forthright language mixed with self-deprecating humor provides an extra dose of reality for both Jean and the reader. While the story is set in a 1960s pre-ADA environment, the themes and issues are relevant today and will spark discussion, if not a clearer understanding of the struggles and successes of the disabled. (Fiction. 12+)
School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up-It is August, 1970, and 17-year-old Jean attends Camp Courage, labeled "Crip Camp" by her new friend and cabinmate, Sara. Because she has cerebral palsy, Jean depends on others for many things, but she has always felt part of the "normal" world. This view changes as she sees herself through Sara's eyes. Sara, an incredibly intelligent, thoughtful teen, talks openly about what it's like to have a disability, as she herself is in a wheelchair. She maintains that no matter what those who are able-bodied think about their efforts to be helpful, they'll never really "get it." Nowhere is this better depicted than in the skit that Sara writes for Jean and their bunkmates to perform in front of the entire camp. Through Sara's fierce creativity, the skit turns everything upside down, showing a telethon parody in which the "normal" people are advocated for, pitied as not being more like the "crips." The skit gets them into trouble, but it proves a point. Jean is forever changed by Sara, knowing that with her she can truly be herself. Issues of race, feminism, identity, and sexuality are looked at as well, all relating to Sara's question, "What would happen if we could find our own power?" This book is smart and honest, funny and eye-opening. A must-read.-Tracy Karbel, Glenside Public Library District, Glendale Heights, IL Copyright 2006 Reed Business Information.
Starred Review for Publishers Weekly

Through the eyes of 17-year-old wheelchair-bound Jean, readers of this wry, at times searing debut novel gain access to an intimate world that few Norms (what Jean calls fully functioning people) ever see. Her family has always treated Jean as a "normal" child; her 10-day stay at Camp Courage is her first time away from them. Johnson, like her heroine, is confined to a wheelchair (due to a neuromuscular disease), and possesses a rare gift for writing in the present tense: readers will feel as if they are experiencing Jean's many small discoveries right along with her. Each chapter covers a day at camp, and Jean's world view begins to shift on day one, when she meets Sara (also wheelchair-bound), a veteran camper. A straight shooter, Sara nicknames Jean "Spazzo," and exposes the insidious ways in which the Norms condescend to the Crips. Taking stock of the cabin they share, Sara says, "It looks like we've got about the right mix—three wheelchairs, a one-leg amputee, two MR's [mentally retarded], and two walkie-talkies." When Jean asks Sara why she comes to camp, she replies, "I need to be with my people. The Crip Nation." In one of the novel's many revelatory scenes, Jean describes swimming with the other campers: "I count it a rare privilege to see them all without their coverings, their equipment, their attachments, their replacement parts, as they really are, in all their strange variety." Readers, too, will find this journey with Jean a rare privilege, as she rethinks her place in the world. Ages 12-up. (May)

Voice of Youth Advocates
In the summer of 1970, Jean attends Camp Courage, a camp for disabled teens. Although she has cerebral palsy, Jean has always considered herself to be "normal"-she does not go to a special school, and none of her friends are disabled. In fact, she has never met another person with a disability until she arrives at Camp Courage. During her ten-day stay, she meets the staff, counselors, and other disabled teens, who range from intensely politically active to nearly oblivious. As a result, her perceptions of her life, disability, personal expectations, and future plans are colored and changed in ways that she could have never imagined before arriving there. This remarkable first young adult novel presents a point of view that many teens will not have encountered before. As Jean explores the differences between "crips" and "norms," readers will find many issues to consider in their own lives. This book is also set in a very interesting time in recent history, as the issue of the empowerment of people with disabilities and an exploration of their civil rights was just in its earliest stages. The author of this novel has cerebral palsy and attended a similar camp during her teen years, a fact that clearly enhanced the believable and memorable characters featured. This unique novel is recommended for school and public libraries serving older teens.-Sherrie Williams.
Word Count: 52,571
Reading Level: 4.5
Interest Level: 9-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 4.5 / points: 8.0 / quiz: 106126 / grade: Upper Grades
Reading Counts!: reading level:4.2 / points:14.0 / quiz:Q38806
Lexile: 690L
My shoulders are sticky with my father's sweat where I took his arm to get out of the station wagon. We're met by a tall brunette in bermuda shorts. "I'm Sue, the senior counselor in Jean's cabin. Carole's around here somewhere."
"Pleased to meet you." My parents speak in unison so perfect that someone really ought in some manner to express amusement. But instead Sue and Dad shake hands and my mother accepts a clip board loaded with forms, while I sit, silent, beside the car. The sun beats down on my head.
"Has Jean ever spent a night away from home?"
My Dad says, "No."
"Well," Mom adds, "only with us with her, on family trips and whatnot." She's working on the forms on the hood of our station wagon. Inside my sister Cindy is sprawled across the back seat.
Sue says, "We have a lot of first-time campers this time. Jean'll fit right in."
Mom's smile is a little rigid. "Well, I know she will. She always does. You know, she's in public high school. Going to graduate next year."
"With honors, I might add. Beta Club. Key Club. I-don't-know-what-all Club. And perfect attendance for seven years in a row--" Dad's habitual grin goes up a wide notch.
"At any rate," Mom says, "we thought it would be good for her to have an experience away from home. Away from us too. She needs to find out she can survive without us. She's never let cerebral palsy hold her back."
I shrug. I feel no need to prove anything, but if this is what my parents want, I can indulge them. While I'm at camp, my family will be sleeping in a tent on the beach.
"I know she'll have a great time. You're not nervous, are you?"
It takes me by surprise, her turning from my parents to me without warning, and I'm not ready to talk. I'm struggling to get words out, and I realize I don't even know what words I'm going for. There's no way out when it gets like this.
Sue jumps back in. "Hey, that's a really cute outfit." It's a culotte suit in a funny print -- the words NO NO NO NO NO repeated all over.
Dad's still grinning and I know what's coming. "Like I told her this morning: just look at those clothes to remember what to tell the boys at camp!" He rubs my head the same way he rubbed it this morning when he made the same joke, the same way he always rubs his best dog. He always makes dumb jokes, and I always laugh. I laugh now, but I hope the talking will end soon and they'll get me out of the sun.
My mother hands Sue the clip board. "Did I do everything right?"
Sue shows them where to sign. They sign. Along with the intake forms, I'm handed over in the sandy parking area. Mom bends down. I tilt my head up for a kiss that smells like face powder and feels like lip stick. Dad gives me a noisy smack on the forehead and a friendly slap on the back. "Now try to behave yourself, girl. Do us proud."
I wonder if it will be this hot the whole time.
That's it. I should have a spaz attack, but I don't. There should be a strong emotion of some kind, but there isn't. Ever since that August in 1970, I've pressed hard to squeeze something out of my memory, but I always find it dry. I have to accept it. When I lean back to receive good-bye kisses from my mother and father, all I feel is hot.

Copyright © 2006 Harriet McBryde Johnson
This text is from an uncorrected proof.

Excerpted from Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson
All rights reserved by the original copyright owners. Excerpts are provided for display purposes only and may not be reproduced, reprinted or distributed without the written permission of the publisher.

I'm in the middle of a full-blown spaz-attack, and I don't care. I don't care at all. At home I always try to act normal, and spaz-attacks definitely aren't normal. Here, people understand. They know a spaz-attack signals that I'm excited. They're excited too, so they squeal with me; some even spaz on purpose, if you can call that spazzing . . . An unforgettable coming-of-age novel about what it's like to live with a physical disability It's the summer of 1970. Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever. Henry Holt published Harriet McBryde Johnson's adult memoir, Too Late to Die Young , in April 2005. Ms. Johnson has been featured in The New York Times Magazine and has been an activist for disability rights for many years.

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