Thursday, March 3, 2016

Book Review: Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern: Chapter 3

It's time for chapter 3 of the Say What You Will review.  If you missed chapter 1 or chapter 2, feel free to catch up before checking out the issues in this chapter.  Get ready, because there are a lot:



SEXUALITY:

Chapter 3:

Amy says she watches people, including boys she "might have had a crush on in a different life."  Why does Amy's disability preclude her from having a crush on a certain kind of boy?  It sounds like the author has totally bought into the nonsense that disabled people can and/or should only have eyes for other disabled people.

ABLEISM:

Chapter 3:  

Amy states that "for most of her life, she felt like Rapunzel.  Trapped in the tower her walker created."  Apparently, in eleven years, no one had ever "tried to be her friend."  While entirely possible that she would feel walled off from her peers due to adaptive equipment, I think it's really damaging to promote this way of thinking especially among young readers who may also have CP.  We see she's excluded from class projects even when she is part of the group, not allowed to even touch them.  I also think it's highly unlikely (and unnecessary) to say that no one in eleven years ever tried to be Amy's friend.

She also states that she watches her peers a lot.  She lists off several types that she watches, ending with "a shy girl like herself (or the person she would have been if she could walk and talk.)"  Why is the part in parenthesis necessary?  Amy can walk and talk.  Just because she does both with the aid of adaptive equipment does not negate their validity.  Not to mention the fact that without her disability, Amy would be an entirely different person than she is now.

Matthew critiques Amy's lack of social awareness, and says "you never answer questions."  This leaped out at me because of Matthew's pure presumptuousness.  Being asked questions when you are disabled is different than being asked questions if you are not.  Nondisabled people feel entitled to information about your diagnosis (your medical history) all the time.  Chances are, people are not coming up to Amy to discuss the weather, and it is entirely within her right to refuse to answer questions like these.  But instead, Matthew points the finger at Amy, making her seem in the wrong for not making conversation.  Not to mention the fact that Matthew himself has previously observed that Amy is unable to walk and talk simultaneously, which would make much of school conversation difficult.

Amy states that for years she has eaten lunch in the special-ed teacher's resource room and that it was "fine" because she was messy.  I can't think of a single reason why a situation like this would come to pass.  All students eat in the cafeteria.  Since when do we segregate one to eat in a resource room?  She has an aide, for goodness sake.  That person could totally help her wipe up, if needed.  Amy's thrilled that she can eat in the cafeteria because "all she has to do is pay students to sit with her."  Both of these things sound so degrading to me, but the way they're written is as if Amy should be and is totally okay with being segregated from her peers and then paying them to sit with her in the cafeteria.  Her mother doesn't like what it suggests - that they might pay students to be her friends - but ultimately does nothing to put a stop to it.

And just to end the chapter in a totally maddening way, Amy writes to Matthew that "he's the only person who has ever told her the truth," leaving no room for doubt:  Matthew is this book's able bodied savior.  Matthew told her something based on zero facts that he gleaned by only peripherally existing around Amy, and instead of telling him to go away, she thinks he's amazing.

ACCURACY AND PORTRAYAL ISSUES:

Chapter 3:

Amy is floored that she has "never seen [her lack of peer relationships] as a problem" and all of a sudden considers genuine connections she has made with adults to be invalid, because Matthew "pointed out the holes in her thinking."

I understand that adults and children cannot be friends in the traditional sense, but it doesn't mean they have any less respect for Amy now that she has had her revelation.  Some of us with CP do connect more easily to adults than to peers.  In that case, we are encouraged from young ages to socialize with other children.  It's not left as a nonissue until we are almost out of high school.  She has "never considered" that being around an adult all the time might dissuade peers from coming up and conversing with her.

Again, why does the author persist in portraying Amy as so oblivious?  She is ridiculously intelligent, and even if she did have trouble forming friendships, I'm sure the fact that she was walking around with an aide and it kept other kids at a distance was not lost on her.  I had one in sixth grade and they really do alienate any potential peer relationships.  For Amy to remain oblivious to this is just part of what makes her seem like a caricature instead of a character.

While discussing all the ways an aide assists Amy throughout the day, she inexplicably segues from that they "bubbled the answers on her Scantron tests," to "changed her sanitary napkins."

Not only is this an unnecessary and abrupt jump from educational to highly personal needs, it illustrates another issue I don't imagine the author meant to point out:  by solely using peer helpers, trained by her mother, instead of professional adults, trained in such personal matters, Amy is now subject to having her own female peers assist her with this very personal need.  Again, I would imagine, it is already at least slightly embarrassing to need help in such a personal area by someone who is not, say, your mother.  An adult aide would have some training and would be able to assist Amy in a professional manner, at least.  But needing to rely on peer helpers for this sounds beyond humiliating.  (I could not even deal with it when my fourth grade classrooms followed me into the bathroom and stood by the wall listening to me use the restroom, at our teacher's insistence.)  The fact that this is glossed over like it isn't something that would be totally humiliating is, at the least, troubling to me.  Difficult to make a friend with the same person who helps you change your pad, and isn't the whole point of this so that Amy can make friends?  (Plus, given the mix of girls and boys, Amy would only have assistance for this three-fifths of the time!)

Amy speaks to this soon after saying that "boys couldn't" help her in the bathroom but that she would "drink less on those days and improvise more."  Can we talk about how dangerous this is?  I admit that in middle school, I often drank less so I didn't waste nonexistent passing time going to the restroom, but it's not something I would recommend whatsoever.  I would have definitely preferred a situation where I could have been free to drink my milk at lunch and have time to use the restroom like everyone else did.  Hydration is a necessity.  And the fact is, circumstances that call for Amy to sacrifice her own health are not safe ones.  She could have major health issues from not drinking enough, but that is never even alluded to in the text.  Just, "she'll improvise."  She shouldn't have to improvise.

In this chapter, Amy's mom finally wonders if they didn't prioritize socialization enough.  Might have been a good question to ask when your kid was just starting school.  Amy affirms they didn't prioritize it at all.  To top it all off, her mom regularly tells her that she's not like other children and doesn't need to act like them.  Wow.  I can't say enough how the whole premise of this book and the portrayal of Amy's character as a totally unaware, naive child is baseless.

To finish, Amy writes to Matthew that "when you're disabled almost no one tells you the truth."  Does she mean aside from her unflinching scientist mother?  The therapists and aides she has been surrounded by all of her life?  I can buy that maybe Amy has never experienced a peer telling her the truth (if only because it seems that her peers have yet to tell Amy much of anything.)  But as a disabled person, I can say, we are well-versed in reality and in the truth.  The fact that Amy is portrayed the opposite seems to go against a lot of what it means to be disabled, and is instead, based on the perception of what it must mean to be disabled.

If you are interested in what chapter 4 of this review has in store, tune in tomorrow!

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