Let's Discuss: Why we don't see more Chronically Ill MCs in Literature

Let's discuss why we don't see more chronically ill main characters in literature, specifically young adult literature. I don't know exactly when I started to notice the lack of chronically ill MCs, but I did, and now I can't stop seeing it.  In fact, it was one of the inspirations for me starting one of my new series, Chronically Awesome.

Now, I don't mean to say that you won't see them at all, just that you'll only see them in contemporary romance. Which, again, isn't bad. But, they all seem to follow a similar story line: the parents were lying and the MC isn't actually chronically ill; the MC gets a boyfriend and everything gets better!; through there is always the classic, the MC dies. I mean, this is kind of insulting. Is this what authors think our lives are like? 😂

I feel like the chronically ill have been left behind. I mean, we had the whole #WeNeedDiverseBooks movement, and it did amazing things. But one thing that I criticized about it was that it targeted two very specific groups: mental health, and and more MCs that were POC. Which, again, is great. But it wish that more awareness had been brought to other areas as well, like people with chronic illnesses, or people on the autism spectrum.

I mean, we are pretty awesome (hence the title, Chronically Awesome). Do you know how many twists you could put in books? Imagine the classic zombie survival book, but the MC has Type 1 diabetes. Not only do they need to fight off zombies, find food, find shelter, and navigate the new world, but they have to find insulin, be able to correct their blood sugar, and charge up any medical devices that they need. It adds a completely new aspect! Or, an alien invasion novel! Where the MC has to save the world, but also has celiac disease, and has to make sure that they don't consume any gluten.

I have only heard of three books that featured a chronically ill MC or a MC that's on the autism spectrum, and that weren't contemporary romance, and that didn't end with one of those three endings. And, in all honesty, this is kind of sad. I mean, we're always talking about how everyone deserves to see themselves in the pages of the book, so why aren't we giving kids with chronic illnesses a character to look up to? So, come on authors! Let's do better, let's do some writing, let's discuss.        

Comments

  1. I'm currently working on a series and I tried and added mental health to the mix in the form of anxiety. I was thinking of adding diversity and that's the one subject I'm most familiar with? Any kind of depiction of disability, I always worry I'm not going to do it justice? However, I do love your idea of type 1 Diabetes during a Zombie apocalypse. The Walking Dead had a short moment of showing that, but of course the character was dead a few minutes later. Great discussion post!

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    1. Ya, you can't really expect new characters to last long on that show. lol

      Ya, it can be hard to write about a subject that you aren't familiar with. I would say a lot of research, and ask some bookish people on Twitter and Instagram! There are a lot of bloggers that have chronic illnesses and disabilities, and I'm sure that there is someone with a condition you are looking for that would talk with you. :)

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  2. I agree, we need to see more of this and done well. And since I read contemporaries only occasionally, I hardly EVER see it! I'd love to see some fantasy or urban fantasy or SF with chronically ill MC's, something like The Long Way To A Small Angry Planet (love that book) but from a chronic illness perspective. They could take my money lol.

    I love that zombie/ diabetes idea too! So true!!

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    1. I know! I would through all of my money away on those books. lol

      I agree, I would like to see these books done well, but at this point even just seeing a MC with a chronic illness would make me super happy. lol

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  3. Okay, I feel like I don't have the right to judge here (because contemporary is not my go to genre, but isn't chronically ill...often like, the MAIN plot in contemporary books a lot, especially in YA romances? I mean, look at John Green!

    Then again, I don't read contemporary a lot, so please forgive me if I'm wrong. It's just what I'm saying from MY experiences.

    http://anneclarence.wixsite.com/thereadinglife/single-post/2018/01/31/ARC-Review-Wintersong-by-S-Jae-Jones

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    1. Well, sometimes they are the main focus. But with a lot of those books they follow the same plot lines that I talked about, which kind of sucks. :/

      Also, they pretty much only show up in contemporary romance, and I think that they should show up in fantasy, and adventure, and science fiction, and all other different genres (not just contemporary romance). I'm tired of seeing chronically ill MCs portrayed as weak, and I think it would be nice if they could be the heroes.

      Thanks for stopping by! :)

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  4. I agree we don't see them often Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight has a great page with books with disability! I often try to give her suggestions to add to the list. Great Post Anna!

    http://blog.kristenburns.com/books-with-disability/

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    1. Oooooo, thanks for the link! I'll check it out. :)

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  5. I suspect one reason you see chronic illness in contemporary fiction, and not as much in historical fiction, SF, or fantasy, is the question of treatability and mortality in times/cultures either less or significantly more medically knowledgeable than our own. In much sci-fi set in the future, many chronic illness may be not only treatable but curable (as they are in Star Trek, by and large.) In societies or worlds with less knowledge, illnesses that are considered "chronic" in our culture and era, were or would likely be fatal.

    For instance, in 1959, the median age of survival for Cystic Fibrosis was 6 months; now it's 37 to 40 (source: Wikipedia.) When I was in college in the 1980s, I knew a couple who lost their 5-year-old daughter to CF. Type I diabetes has been recognized since ancient times, but treatment varied from nonexistent to only partially effective; it was pretty much a death sentence until the advent of insulin. So your zombie novel scenario could work really well with a character with Type I diabetes, but high or epic fantasy or historical fiction would pose much more of a problem -- unless the world's magic is able to heal chronic diseases, in which case, the character wouldn't have the illness any more. Many other chronic illnesses pose the same difficulty -- but not all of them. In Mercedes Lackey's fantasy novel "Oathbreakers," for example, one of the important secondary characters has rheumatoid arthritis. (It's not identified as such, but the symptoms are pretty clear-cut.) He has to take painkilling herbs just to be able to ride a horse, and his role is more "brain" and less "brawn," but he does go on an adventure despite it. So it would be possible to include characters with chronic illnesses in fantasy and historical fiction, as long as the author was realistic about what any given illness does if untreated, and what treatments might be available.

    And now I'm thinking about various fanfic scenarios...

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    1. I love all the points you made! Yes, I do think that authors would have to get a little creative with the world, and the inner workings of it, but I do think that having chronically ill MCs would make the stories almost more complex in a way.

      I completely understand not having any chronically ill MCs in a world where there is no more illness, but not all chronically ill people or people with disabilities poof out of existence the moment aliens stop by to say hello. That just isn't realistic. lol

      Ooooo, I'm going to look up Oathbreakers on Goodreads! :)

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    1. Thank you! I need to see if my library has it. :)

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  7. I agree! It's not just contemp rom. There are hardly any in SFF either. I have that whole list Daniela mentioned, but the majority of disabilities on there are amputation, limp/cane, things that aren't quite the same as chronic illness. I've also had a discussion about post-apoc is a genre that could really be interesting w/ more disability! I also agree that w/ all the discussion about diversity, physically disability is so often left out. People talk about mental health, but rarely physical. So glad to see another blogger trying to talk about it more!

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    1. Yes! I'm here! lol I really wish that we got to see more physical illnesses mentioned. Oooooo, your post sounds interesting! I'm going to see if I can hunt it down sometime this week. :)

      I'm glad that I'm not the only one who noticed the lack of chronic illnesses/disabilities in literature! You should've seen my face when I saw your list. I was really excited, lol. :)

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  8. You don't see many disabled or ill characters in fantasy or science fiction, but agree it would be fasinating to see a hero/herione in a dystopian setting with a chronic illness. I have seen secondary characters, were say the herione's mother has diabetes and finding insulin is an issue. Great discussion.

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    1. I don't even really see it in secondary characters! I feel like they get killed off so fast... maybe I have see one and I just can't remember. lol

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  9. I think they're featured less, because, well, the chronically ill aren't that dramatic, often, are they? Annoying allergies that turn your life to hell might not be as visible to others as some other scary disease. Migraines are even less dramatic to the outsider :D (not when you're the one having them, lol..) Constant fatigue, again, is not even something others notice (apart from thinking you're just lazy... which is so annoying!!) But I agree - it would be awesome to see chronically ill, or just weaker people (who are not looked down on!) in any other literature than YA (!) romance. Anything non YA at all would be cool too. Adventure, maybe? Doing things? xD despite being ill? That would be so cool.

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    1. I agree! And yes, I hate when people think that I'm lazy, even though I'm just not feeling well. :(

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  10. I feel like I've seen more books with autistic MCs lately, but not chronically ill. You make a very good point! I think you're right that they either get magically cured (by love) or die. Pretty sad!

    Nicole @ Feed Your Fiction Addiction

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    1. It is pretty sad. Though, it would be nice if love was a magical cure. lol Would defiantly make things easier.

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