Wednesday, March 2, 2016

Book Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern: Chapter 2

In case you missed the review of chapter 1, feel free to check it out before reading my thoughts on chapter 2.  This chapter has its share of ableism and portrayal issues, which I'll share about in the following paragraphs.


Chapter 2:

Matthew remembers his first impression of second-grade Amy, who "wasn't a true freak, like he'd hoped."  I get that he is a child at this point, but why include something like that in the text of a book like this?  Who does it help?

Also here, we meet Amy's teachers who are hopelessly ableist and ask if Amy is all right, when she tries to contribute to conversation, and also shares with the third grade class out of Amy's presence that "the doctors predicted Amy would be a vegetable for the rest of her life and look how far she's come." The teacher tells them she has a high IQ and Matthew "waits for her to do or say something extremely smart" and concludes that "no one understands anything she says."

I was shocked to read that Amy's classroom teacher would share such deeply personal information about Amy outside her presence.  Especially to a classroom full of seven year olds.  What exactly did the teacher hope to accomplish by outing Amy's medical history in this way?  Honestly, and I hate to even say this, but this part gives me pause about my own classroom teachers.  Did they talk about me behind my back to the class?  What did they share about me that I never knew about?

When girls make fun of Amy at recess two aides talk about it together, but neither one asks Amy if she's getting her feelings hurt.  Matthew supposes this "makes sense" because no one would understand her long, complicated answers anyway.  Later, Matthew decides Amy "isn't really a kid."

What I am wondering is why a part like this wouldn't be told explicitly from Amy's perspective, so we could see if her feelings were being hurt or not - not just other people's opinions about whether she is being hurt.  I wish we had heard from Amy, looking back at her own childhood and what her thoughts were being teased by other children and not having a way to express herself until she's nine years old.  Instead, the whole chapter is from Matthew's point of view.

Later, having been asked by Amy in seventh grade to help her print an essay, Matthew secretly prints two copies and keeps one.  Why exactly?  Did you get permission from her to keep her property, Matthew?  Somehow, I doubt it.  There is no explanation and there is no sense of remorse on his part for stealing something belonging to her.

In eleventh grade, Matthew's English teacher asks what the class thinks of Amy's essay (because Amy is not in that class.)  One student said if she were like Amy she would kill herself.  Matthew speaks up and says he has "known" Amy a long time, and doesn't believe her optimistic essay is true."  The English teacher points out that they don't hear the message by disabled people that our lives aren't tragedies often enough.  But her comment is immediately drowned out by a student who insists Amy's life is tragic and then by Matthew who insists to Amy herself that her whole essay is false and Amy takes him at his word.

I really resent that people continue to talk about Amy behind her back, and that no one seems able to give Amy honest feedback to her face, the way they would with another student.  It really does Amy's character no favors to have her entire essence dismantled because Matthew believes it's not honest, and Amy quickly agrees he is right.  So the message here is that the person with CP doesn't actually know themselves as well as a random able bodied student who read one essay one time knows her.

Matthew also refers to Amy speaking to him as "her computer" and it's pointed out more than once by him that her facial expressions are impossible to read.  This makes Amy seem simultaneously unreliable regarding her own understanding of her circumstances but also less than human.


Chapter 2:

We find out that Amy only gets her first AAC device in fourth grade.  Most children with their speech impacted will start learning to use one in therapy as soon as they are able.  Certainly by four or five years of age.  There is no reason I can think of that Amy would not be able to use even a rental in school.  With Amy's parents so well-off, I can't imagine insurance or out of pocket cost would be an issue.

Amy's also pointed out as being one of the top three math students in class.  While not unheard of, CP often affects someone's ability to excel in math, especially subjects that involve graphing or spatial concepts.

But the biggest issue I find in this chapter is the content of Amy's essays.  Her voice, in these, does not read as authentic to me at all.  What it sounds like is an able bodied adult writing their own insights after being around a disabled seventh grader, or eleventh grader, not something an actual twelve to sixteen year old with CP would say.  Amy's comments about beauty and fashion are particularly troubling because it's a mix of inspiration objectification, internalized ableism, and unrealistic reactions to not seeing herself represented anywhere.  Not seeing yourself represented in media as a teen with CP is not freeing.  It makes you feel outcasted.

Tune in tomorrow for more thoughts on chapter 3.


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