Novel Conversations: Connecting With Disability in Three Examples of Popular Fiction

  • Joanna Rankin Community Rehabilitation & Disability Studies Cumming School of Medicine, University of Calgary


Examining how readers of popular fiction respond to characters with disabilities and characters immersed in the lives of characters with disabilities, this paper serves to contribute to understandings of the meanings that readers ascribe to disability in popular culture using the public sphere of online discussion. Specifically, I study online reader discussion of three characters, namely:  Trudi in Ursula Hegi’s (1996) Stones from the River, Icy in Gwyn Hyman Rubio’s (1998) Icy Sparks and Jewel in Brett Lott’s (1991) Jewel.  I present findings from my analysis of reader discussion using readers’ descriptions of their identified connections with characters with disabilities. While these connections challenge the othering frequently cited in presentations of disability through readers’ recognition and appreciation of the well-rounded characters beyond traditional disability tropes, the unmet potential of reader discussion to challenge the status quo is also demonstrated through readers’ failure to expand these connections beyond the pages of the novels.