What Are Some Good Books That Feature A Disabled Protagonist?
Posted on 19th of June, 2019


Books with disabled protagonists is not as progressive as people may think. In fact, one of the earliest ones I know about was written in 1938 by Dalton Trumbo. The author wrote it in protest against the war and it is about an American soldier who is horrifically injured during the first World War. In terms of disability, things don't get much worse than what the protagonists of this book has to endure. He not only lost all of his limbs, but also his face, which left him blind, deaf and mute. The worst part of it all is that his mind still functions perfectly, so he is in essence trapped inside his own body. While his disability may make it sound like it would be impossible to be the "star" of a book, the author did a good job with conveying the emotions and struggles that this man has to endure.
I would like to see more disabled characters in fantasy literature as this is not really something that is common as far as I know. Characters with disabilities are very popular in science fiction, but I'm not a big fan of how their disabilities are usually just "cured" with technology. Lost a limb? Here, have a cybernetic one. Lost an eye? Here, have a cybernetic one. I mean I get the whole cyberpunk element and it is cool and everything, but in science fiction, it often just feels like disabilities are treated like a small bump in the road instead of the insurmountable obstacle it is for many people.

I would have thought that losing a limb is a much greater threat and more likely in fantasy where everyone is always swinging around big axes or swords. Game of Thrones handles it well with Jamie Lanister who loses a hand and has to cope with going from one of the greatest swordsmen in the realm, to struggling and relearning everything he once mastered. I would love to read a story about say an archer who has to cope with the loss of an arm that makes it impossible for him to continue fighting or a warrior that is used to fighting with a two handed sword or sword and shield combo who has to adjust to fighting with only one arm. All too often in fantasy fiction the hero has a "disability' that somehow turns out to be a gift in disguise, which is not how these things work in reality!
1. The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff - If you don't mind reading a book that is primarily aimed at children, then The Eagle of The Ninth is pretty cool. It is a historical novel that is set during the Roman era and as far as I know it has also been turned into a movie a few times. The protagonist of the story breaks his leg early in the book, which leaves him with a disability that puts an end to his chances of advancing in the Roman Army. The focus of the book is not really on the disability of the protagonist, but it does play an important role in the story.

2. The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo - This one is a more obvious example of a protagonist with a disability as the lead character is quite literally born with a deformity that leaves his back permanently hunched. A lifetime of ringing the bell of the cathedral has also left poor Quasimodo with damaged hearing and he is half blind to boot. Some people think that Victor Hugo was a little too interested in the architecture of the buildings in the story, which can make for somewhat dry reading, but overall it is still a great book.

3. Gridlock by Ben Elton - Gridlock is one of my favorite dystopian fiction books, even if it came out way back in 1991, which was long before the genre was as saturated as it is now. It takes place in a future London, where the city is dealing with serious traffic problems. It is a very tense story, but one of my favorite characters is the one who has a disability in the form of cerebral palsy. What is great is that he doesn't let his disability slow him down and actually invents a form of green energy for cars.

4. Tell Me How The Wind Sounds by Leslie Davis Guccione - If your taste runs more towards young adult stories, then you may appreciate this one, even if it is a little old. It is a typical love story about a teenage girl who falls in love during her summer vacation, but the fact that her crush is a boy who is deaf makes things a little more interesting. I read this book a long time ago when I was still a teen, so it might not hold up as well as I remember, but it does fit your criteria.
I absolutely love how inclusive books have become in recent years, not only in terms of the diversity of the authors who now write, but also with the characters that they are able to come up with. Disability is something that is taking a bit longer to become mainstream in literature, but just like LGBTQ characters, I think it is something that is going to gain momentum. I make a point of only reading diverse books, so I have come across a few of them that have disabled characters in the lead. Here are my recommendations if you are interested in reading about really interesting protagonists who have to deal with some kind of disability in their lives.
I don't know about any books where the protagonist starts off as disabled, but in the book "Misery" by Stephen King, the main character loses a foot. I won't spoil anything for those who have not yet read this horror classic, but it is pretty harrowing stuff to say the least.
I'm surprised that nobody has mentioned Forest Gump by Winston Groom yet. I'm not sure if his low intelligence counts as a disability, but he never let it get in the way of his life. Lieutenant Dan, another character in the book, is definitely disabled after the Vietnam War, but his life changes thanks to Forest. In any case, I mostly read young adult books, so my recommendations would be Five Flavors of Dumb by Anthony John, Loving April by Melvin Burgess and Read My Lips by Teri Brown. These books all feature protagonists who all have some type of hearing disability.
The Dragon Librarian by Marc Secchia is a breath of fresh air in a genre that is overcrowded with imposing heroes who can conquer any challenge through brute strength. Here the protagonist is a girl named Auli-Ambar who is not only disfigured, but also blind, which makes her fit for only the most menial tasks in the eyes of others. However, her life changes when she is taken to the Halls of the Dragons and becomes a cleaner of Dragon roosts. It is here where Auli becomes drawn to the Dragon Library despite the fact her blindness means she will never be able to read the books. She also discovers that while she possess magic, it is more of a curse as its only use is to make others forget her existence. Despite all of this adversity, Auli finds a new purpose when she encounters a young Dragon scholar who takes a special interest in her.

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