Book Review: Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson

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Title: Accidents of Nature

Author: Harriet McBryde Johnson

Genre: YA/Historical Fiction

Number of Pages: 229

Rating: B+

Recommended?: Yes



Jean has cerebral palsy, and for the most part she’s okay with that. Her family is both loving and supportive and has sheltered her from the horrible things people with conditions like hers are going through (it is the 1970’s, and disabled people are being institutionalized in large numbers and even legally sterilized) and she has assimilated with the ‘normal’ kids she goes to school with. Sometimes she even seems to forget she’s different from her peers, but then her parents decide to send her to a summer camp for people with disabilities for a couple of weeks.


Unsurprisingly, Jean is not thrilled by this idea, and it quickly becomes clear that a lot of the young adults in the camp suffer from handicaps that are much more severe and limiting than hers. She’s soon befriended by Sara, an angry girl who is also very intelligent and is also confined to a wheelchair because of CP. Jean has no idea how much this unfamiliar experience will end up changing her life, and alter the way she views others and herself forever. The woman who wrote this book also had lifelong physical problems that made her life more difficult and affected the way people treated her, and you can tell that she put a lot of passion into this book.


Sometimes I felt that it could be a little bit didactic, but it was not a trite issue-of-the-week ‘problem’ novel. Overall I didn’t find Jean to be THAT interesting of a main character, but I found the setting and the author’s unique perspective on how society (both intentionally and unintentionally) overlooks people with disabilities to be fascinating throughout. Initially Sara’s character got on my nerves with her abrasive attitude and apparent need to cause discord and drama every chance she got, but I gradually started to understand her character and feel compassion for her.


Another thing that stood out to me about this novel was that it didn’t fall into young adult tropes. I don’t have any problem with YA books that put a lot of focus on dating and romantic relationships, but I sometimes think they’re overused in instances where they’re not necessary. Accidents of Nature portrays the sexual frustrations of some of the disabled campers as well as the way neurotypical people minimize and mishandle this desire for intimacy, but it doesn’t throw a romantic interest into Jean’s story because it feels it has to.


The ending was emotionally satisfying and brought a tear to my eye without going into maudlin territory. I found myself wishing I could spend more time with the characters and get the opportunity to find out more about what their futures held for them. I was also disappointed that the author only wrote two books in her lifetime, but it sounds like she was a really interesting person and advocate. She might not have lived a very long life, but I think it was a life well-spent. There are lots of books about people with disabilities out there, but I think this one stands on it’s own as one-of-a-kind and deserving of being read.


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