REVIEW: “Per Aspera Ad Astra” by Katherine Locke

Review of Katherine Locke, “Per Aspera Ad Astra”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 61-89 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Every morning Lizzie’s sister Darcy asks if she’ll be coming to school with them that day, and every morning, Lizzie says maybe tomorrow. Maybe tomorrow her anxiety won’t be so strong as to make it almost impossible to leave her room. But every morning it’s the same again. Except today. Today the shield that protects Amula, the shield that Liz herself helped programme, has been attacked, and both her city and potentially her planet are threatened.

In one of the longer stories in the collection, Locke takes up a thread similar to ones found in other stories in the anthology, of a teen who feels that her disability makes her worthless — “lazy, ineffectual, cowardly” (p. 72) — but finds out in the end she can overcome her disability and still be a valuable contributor. I have a lot of ambivalent feelings about stories like these, and this one in particular. On the one hand, Lizzie succeeded! And she learned that “she didn’t need to fight the war. She just needed to solve the next problem” (p. 88), a good lesson for any of us to learn. On the other hand, the idea that it took a handsome stranger to arrive unexpectedly to give Lizzie the support she needed to prove her utility to society, or that she even needed to prove this at all, sat a bit uncomfortably with me.