REVIEW: “Mother Nature’s Youngest Daughter” by Keah Brown

Review of Keah Brown, “Mother Nature’s Youngest Daughter”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 260-275 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Mother Nature’s youngest daughter came into her powers early, earlier than any of her siblings. Being able to control snowstorms doesn’t make it any easier for Millie to control her teenage emotions and reactions, especially not when she is being bullied and no one — not the teachers, not the other kids, not even her siblings — will say a word to stop it. If no one else will help her, then Millie has got to help herself — maybe, being the daughter of Mother Nature isn’t the worst thing in the world.

This was an engaging story, but I felt it was a little flat compared to some of the others in the collection, perhaps unfairly because some of the others really sparkled. This one was still a good story, just not one I’m likely to remember strongly.

REVIEW: “Ballad of Weary Daughters” by Kristine Wyllys

Review of Kristine Wyllys, “Ballad of Weary Daughters”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 240-259 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This is a story for anyone whose favorite part of Anne of Green Gables was the idea of kindred spirits — friends whose bond is forged early and will remain forever unbroken, no matter how many stumbling blocks life throws at them. Whether it is River’s father walking out on her family, or the way the doctors have to keep tweaking her bipolar meds, or whether it is Lucy’s younger brother coming home with a bad report card or her older brother disappearing, all of these seems nothing more than window-dressing for the real story, and that is their friendship.

As a teenager, I couldn’t even begin to imagine having a friend like that. Maybe if I had had more stories about teenaged girls being friends, I would have learned better how to do it. More stories like this one, please.

REVIEW: “A Play in Many Parts” by Fox Benwell

Review of Fox Benwell, “A Play in Many Parts”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 205-239 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Take a bunch of misfit teenagers, combine them into a theatre company, and give them Marlowe’s Faustus, and the result is this absolutely smashing story — the best in the volume. Five stars, two thumbs up, would pay to see this story-cum-play turned into an actual stage-production.

REVIEW: “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love” by Dhonielle Clayton

Review of Dhonielle Clayton, “Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 177-204 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

This was such a sweet story. Nora James doesn’t date — not interested in dating! (besides, who would want to date someone with IBS, always running to the bathroom?) — but she knows all about love, as her Madame Amour column in the school newspaper clearly illustrates. This story alternated between episodes in Nora’s life and the letters Madame Amour has received and the replies she writes. Thoroughly teenagerish, entirely non-speculative, but still a very good read.

REVIEW: “Captain, My Captain” by Francisco X. Stork

Review of Francisco X. Stork, “Captain, My Captain”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 157-176 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

The Captain came to Alberto not long ago, with grand plans to help Alberto escape his servitude to his brother-in-law, and make a new life for himself. The only problem is, Alberto isn’t sure he either trusts the Captain or that he wants to leave!

There was nothing particularly speculative about this story, but I loved it anyway. I found Alberto a deeply sympathetic character, especially as I learned more about his past and his present as he made his decisions about his future. I think he might the right decision in the end, but I won’t spoil anything by saying what.

REVIEW: “The Day the Dragon Came” by Marieke Nijkamp

Review of Marieke Nijkamp, “The Day the Dragon Came”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 132-156 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Alix was sold as a bond-servant as a child, and now must work to earn her freedom, running messages through a city not designed for crippled legs. Delfin’s father always told him “you’ll never see dragons, girl” (p. 134), but he did let that stop him from running away as a ‘prentice and now he’s in Ghent helping build the bellfry, the symbol of hope and strength for the city. Alix, too, is waiting for the bellfry’s completion, for that is the day that the dragon will come.

This was a rich story, full of strongly-drawn, interesting characters, a beautiful setting, and details that kept everything hovering on the border between real and fantasy. I loved it.

REVIEW: “Plus One” by Karuna Riazi

Review of Karuna Riazi, “Plus One”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 104-131 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Hafsah has received an invitation from God, for a once in a lifetime opportunity: To go on hajj. A wonderful opportunity, a blessed opportunity, a sacred opportunity…and one she doesn’t particularly want. Because this is the sort of invitation where a plus one is not expected, and Hafsah doesn’t know how she’ll go on hajj without bringing It along.

Everyone says that It is just a phase, that if she ignores It, if she names It, if she grows out of It, It will go away, but nothing she’s done has ever gotten rid of It. What “It” is in the story is not specified — it is both everything that burdens every teenager and also something unique, special, Hafsah’s alone, that no one else has. My heart ached for Hafsah as she tried to navigate a way forward to a life without It, but I also felt a sense of kinship with her, and I suspect many other readers will too…

Reading this story also made me reflect that I can probably count on two hands the number of stories with a Muslim MC that I’ve reviewed for this site since it started almost 3 years ago. This is something I’d like to change going forward! If only they can all be as good as this one was.

REVIEW: “Found Objects” by William Alexander

Review of William Alexander, “Found Objects”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 90-103 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Take the feel of an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, throw in some Shakespeare and make the Buffy-character Hispanic and disabled, and that’s basically what this story felt like, and I loved it.

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.

REVIEW: “The Leap and the Fall” by Kayla Whaley

Review of Kayla Whaley, “The Leap and the Fall”, in Marieke Nijkamp, ed., Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens (Farrar Straus Giroux, 2018): 38-59 — Purchase here. Reviewed by Sara L. Uckelman. (Read the review of the anthology).

Spoiler alert

I wasn’t expecting this story, the way it started off, to become a horror story! But that’s what it was, complete with ghosts, a haunted carnival, and two best friends, Gemma and Eloise, who can only save each other by admitting their love. This was another story with a definite romance arc in it, but Whaley used it to good effect, making it a necessary part of the resolution.