Saturday, March 26, 2016

Book Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern: Chapters 35-38

ACCURACY AND/OR PORTRAYAL ISSUES:

Chapter 35:

Amy is transferring to UC Berkley and cites all of its credentials related to disability and accessibility regarding why it's a good campus for her.  In reality, according to the other review I linked earlier, UC Berkley has quite a lot of accessibility issues.

Amy had apparently read about the history of the Americans with Disabilities Act and once told Matthew, touching the cover of the book, "My people."  Disabled people are nowhere in the history books.  Probably because we are living our history right now.  Our civil rights movement was only 25 years ago.

This part made me feel really good when I read it, but it was difficult when framed from the perspective of the able-bodied character.  I wanted to know how this resonated with Amy and whether she was able to start to connect with other disabled people.  Start to shed some of her shame.  But we don't know any of that, because Amy becoming informed about her own history is really all about Matthew, apparently...

Chapter 36:

Amy and Matthew have a big fight in the previous chapter about her not wanting to move into some random apartment that he looked into moving into together, without even discussing it with Amy.  Amy said she is planning to go back to school.

In this chapter, Amy confesses she actually thought about staying here and living with Matthew."They could do it, she knew."

How exactly would they do that?  Part of having CP means that you are constantly thinking ahead when you have to go anywhere.  How is Amy going to get into a non-accessible apartment building?  Does it have stairs?  Do they live on the first floor?  How wide are the doorways?  Can she get in with her walker?  How is her stamina?  Can she use her walker still?  Not to mention that the kitchen and the bathroom would likely be difficult - if not impossible - for her to manage alone.

The only thing that hangs Amy up is the fact that Matthew mentions that taking care of her "should be his job" which is eerily similar to her mother saying, "you are my job."  And the problem in that, according to Amy is not how rude and offensive it is but that "her body's needs were boring" and that "no one should have to take care of them, exclusively."  Amy knows they could both do "so much more."

Chapter 38:

Amy has found her calling as a drama major at UC Berkley and is succeeding on campus as a playwright.  Her mother worries about whether or not she will have a paying career in this and Matthew says he thinks she will because of all the previous newspaper articles and TV coverage Amy has gotten.  He says people are "fascinated by Amy" and that they "want to know what she thinks."

This is notable because of the glaring point of view issue here.  Matthew believes Amy will have a career because she has been the object of inspirational stories in the media.  The fact is one really has very little bearing on the other.  People may be fascinated by Amy, but that doesn't mean Amy won't likely face discrimination in the job market.  Honestly, if Matthew's perspective is correct, it means it will not matter what Amy achieves, because she will still be the object of the same types of stories no matter what she does.  Those types of news stories are not for Amy herself, they are to make the able bodied audience watching her feel better about themselves.

I do hope Amy has a successful career, but I have my doubts.  In my experience, the able bodied public is not at all interested in hearing from disabled people directly.  Instead, they often like to hear about us via other able bodied people.

After Amy's play, she tells Matthew that being friends with him made her realize she could do more than she ever thought she could.

I continue to be flummoxed by her conclusions because, in my view, Matthew has almost exclusively, made it his duty to hold Amy back.  Throughout the whole text of the book, he has discouraged her from going to college, assumed she couldn't do  things, and told her that her own perspective about herself was wrong.  I don't see how any of these things are particularly empowering.

More than two thirds of this book (about 25 chapters) are from Matthews perspective.  Amy's remaining 13 chapters (less than one third of the book) are often rife with ableism and misinformation.  What we do get of Amy's perspective is often all about Matthew or completely void of anything personal to Amy.  There are only two chapters of 38 that really show us any of who Amy is as a person.

ABLEISM:

Chapter 35:

Amy has recovered enough that it looks like she will be discharged from the hospital very soon.  Matthew is there visiting her, and when he hears this, he begins telling her this plan he has come up with (as usual, all on his own, without even talking to Amy about it whatsoever.)  He has checked into them getting an apartment with one of his friends.

When he tells her this, she says no, and says "don't be stupid."  Not the best way to express that she doesn't like his idea.  Matthew gets all offended that Amy doesn't like his idea and she says she's going back to school, to UC Berkley.  Amy having her own plan makes him feel "small and ridiculous."  Then he feels enraged because he feels like Amy used him to "feel better about herself" after the complications with the pregnancy and having her baby.  That once Amy felt good, she would leave again.

I'm encouraged that Matthew doesn't walk on eggshells around Amy.  However, the fact that Amy making her own future plans enrages Matthew?  That's concerning to me.  Of course she doesn't want to drop everything.  She has always been a very driven girl.  Why would she jump at the thought of a plan she was never even consulted about, conceived by an able bodied guy who (while well-meaning) definitely did not think of everything in terms of feasibility.

Even if Amy wanted to live in Matthew's random apartment, and even if it were on the first floor, there would be issues.  I'm sure it's not an accessible building, because most aren't.  That means doorways won't be wide enough for her walker, she won't be able to manage in the kitchen or bathroom alone, etc.

Also, can we talk about Matthew's accusation that Amy uses Matthew to "feel better about herself?"  Because it may well be true.  However, I found it to be quite a bit of the pot calling the kettle black, so to speak.  From day one, Matthew has been using Amy for the exact same reason.  She is a self-esteem boost for him.  If both are aware of this and okay with it, then that's fine.  I just find it interesting that when he gets a taste of what he is doing to Amy it makes him this angry, but he never connects the dots regarding what helping her does for his self esteem.

Chapter 37:

At UC Berkley, one of Amy's favorite classes is playwriting.  She apparently "[can] not get over the miracle of hearing her words read aloud by real people!"  She goes on and on about hearing the lines she writes read with inflection and comic timing, and the whole thing just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.  To me (again) it implies that Amy (with her Pathway) is not a "real person."

To add to this, her playwriting professor seems to talk about Amy to the class rather than to Amy herself.  ("Amy is finding her voice."  "I'd be curious about what would happen if Amy wrote her final one-act on a subject closer to home...")  Why not address Amy personally?  She is right there.

It's also mentioned that Amy likes being a drama major because she "doesn't feel disabled, just eccentric in a different way."  There go my theories and hope that Amy may be able to connect to the disabled community on campus at least somewhat and realize she can take pride in that part of her identity.  I'm glad she feels she fits in with the drama majors, I just wish she didn't feel like she had to sacrifice a big part of her identity to do it.

Chapter 38:

Amy's play is called Alone Together.  It's about a boy with agoraphobia and an able bodied girl, who tries to convince the boy to go out to dinner with her.  Again, mental illness is kept in the play, as Amy experienced it via Matthew, but her own CP is erased.  There is no evidence of even a hint of physical disability in this eccentric female character on stage.

SEXUALITY:

Chapter 38:

Amy says she doesn't think she will ever try dating, because she doesn't see the point, and the book literally ends with Matthew breathing onto her cheek.  He tells her she will be a great playwright one day and will "think of all the right things to say."  Ironically, as he says this he has Amy's good hand in his so that she cannot say anything back.

He's told Amy that his other girlfriend has mentioned she doesn't think Matthew's over Amy yet.  Last time I checked they were hardly romantic at all, definitely not dating.  And just to drive the point home, the book ends with Matthew breathing weirdly onto Amy's face and saying that they should just "have a nice summer."

I suppose, as with all of the important romantic or sexual things regarding Amy we are just supposed to imagine that she and Matthew are in love now, though even at the end of the book, he doesn't kiss her or even let her have an opinion on them being together.

How romantic...  (I hope my sarcasm is clear enough here.)

CLOSING THOUGHTS: 

It was such a letdown of an ending, in a book that I kept hoping would redeem itself - but I stand by my initial assertion.  I hope no one (least of all young girls with CP) ever read this book, because of just how damaging something like this might be for their own self worth.

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