BURNING THE BOATS: THE novel that the disabled community urgently needed.

Posted: May 12, 2019 in Uncategorized

In my view, the secret to a great young adult novel is the grace and urgency with which it tackles issues that readers are struggling with. Adolescence is essentially an age of struggles, an age at which everyone seeks to define themselves in the most authentic of manners.
Although I have quite long ago passed the age which would place me in the center of the YA demographic, I could not ignore such gems as GIRL IN PIECES and THE HATE U GIVE, which were HUGELY impactful to me because they revealed that YA books are truly about more than cardboard heroes and heroines in ever-twisting love triangles. They were works with a powerful social component, which left me wondering when someone would do for disability what THE HATE U GIVE did for racial issues and GIRL IN PIECES did for young people struggling with self-harm issues.
And, to my hugely pleasant surprise, I found it. And I found it in a novel written by someone who KNOWS disability because she has it. She experiences it. And she uses the experience to teach, to educate, to inform, and to inspire, without striving to be what has become shallowly known as „an inspiration”.
I am talking about Ms. Christina Minaki and her wonderful novel, BURNING THE BOATS. This book is special, in more ways than one, and I will try, and fully place my hope in succeeding, to explain why.

Naomi Demas, the protagonist of the novel, is seventeen. She loves horses, she is faithful, she is surrounded by an eclectic and loving family, and she struggles greatly with big stuff like love, belonging and other such emotional and deeply personal themes in the life of everyone. And she has Cerebral Palsy. It is not coincidental that I put the diagnosis last, because Naomi is the kind of person who does all she can for her disability not to be the only thing that defines her. There is enough troubled history in her family as it is, with a dead twin and a mentally ill mother who took off with her older sister, while her father was left to care for her the best he can. Add to this the fact that all her friends have problems, from alcoholism to learning disabilities and abusive environments, and you can safely say this girl has her work cut out for her.
The truly great thing about the novel, in my view, lies in the self-awareness of our protagonist. Naomi really, really knows she is different, and yet, she embraces it with something one may not be remiss in calling stubbornness. Naomi knows who she is and needs no one to label her. I can certainly relate to that, as my own life experience has shown me that being disabled is not something that makes a person inherently inspirational(this word has REALLY become a huge cliche, to be completely honest). This is by turns a funny, sad, gritty, tender, authentic and inspiring look at what living with a disability is truly like, and like the aforementioned YA novels that come before it, it speaks with great wit and warmth about a theme that, in my view, should be addressed more often and more boldly. Ten out of five, for a great, great novel.
Though Ms. Minaki was kind enough to provide me with a copy iof her novel for review purposes, these views are my own, and I am proud to say so! Thank you, Ms. Minaki. A truly wonderful job!

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