Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens Edited by Marieke Nijkamp Review: Resilient and Resounding

September 18, 2018 by Aila J. | ARC Reviews, Books

Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens Edited by Marieke Nijkamp Review: Resilient and ResoundingUnbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens by Marieke Nijkamp, William Alexander, Fox Benwell, Keah Brown, Dhonielle Clayton, Corinne Duyvis, Heidi Heilig, Kody Keplinger, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Francisco X. Stork, Kayla Whaley, Kristine Wyllys
on September 18, 2018
Source: Publisher
Genres: Anthology, Own Voices, Diversity
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This anthology explores disability in fictional tales told from the viewpoint of disabled characters, written by disabled creators. With stories in various genres about first loves, friendship, war, travel, and more, Unbroken will offer today's teen readers a glimpse into the lives of disabled people in the past, present, and future.

The contributing authors are awardwinners, bestsellers, and newcomers including Kody Keplinger, Kristine Wyllys, Francisco X. Stork, William Alexander, Corinne Duyvis, Marieke Nijkamp, Dhonielle Clayton, Heidi Heilig, Katherine Locke, Karuna Riazi, Kayla Whaley, Keah Brown, and Fox Benwell. Each author identifies as disabled along a physical, mental, or neurodiverse axis—and their characters reflect this diversity.

Beautiful cover, and beautiful stories to match the outside!

I really enjoyed Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. While all the authors are disabled, I’m not 100% sure their characters follow the exact disability. Either way, I love the intersections of the characters and the vast range of writing styles. They’re all written with care and charm, whether it’s a haunting setting or a fluffy contemporary one. While not all the disabilities are labeled, I will try my best to describe them and any other types of representation seen. Like usual, I’ll include the starting sentence of each story and my thoughts.

The Long Road by Heidi Heilig

There it is – do you hear it?
Hisssss, shhhh. Hissss, shhh.

This is a historical fiction featuring a Chinese heroine with a mental disability. It features lovely family dynamics on a voyage across the Silk Road. I wish it were longer, but I loved the message regarding the main character’s disability and the “cure” for it.

Britt and the Bike God by Kody Keplinger

I’ve always loved the climbs.

This is a super cute, contemporary story following a blind biker and her attraction to this fast POC biker. They go tandem biking but end up lost – is it because she’s a burden, or some other reason? Featuring a m/f ship and the sweet, young attraction of teens.

The Leap and the Fall by Kayla Whaley

It was cold, and the cold made us reckless.

This story is a haunting and eerie contemporary following a girl in a wheelchair and her friend who leads her to an abandoned carnival. There’s some evil magic afoot, and the main character has to figure out what’s wrong with her friend before the evil takes her as well. F/f ship.

Per Aspera Ad Astra by Katherine Locke

In the dark of the bedroom, the computer screen hummed at a slightly different wavelength than the tablet Lizzie held beneath her bedcovers.

I loved this short story! It’s an exciting sci-fi where a girl with anxiety has to deal with an intergalactic war, when in fact maybe her coding can turn the tides. Can she overcome her fears to save her home?

Found Objects by William Alexander

I’m home, stretched out on the sofa and savoring post-show melancholy.

Honestly, the more I think about this one, the more I really like it. A latinx narrator (their gender is never specified) leads a second person POV of their passion for theater and the magic they create from their idiopathic pain. They use a cane as well. It was super unique and intriguing! I’m not sure if it’ll be everyone’s jams, but I for one really enjoyed it.

Plus One by Karuna Riazi

‘It’s an invitation from God,’ her mother had said.

This one follows the spiritual journey of a Muslim girl undergoing her hajj, or pilgrimage. Along the trip comes “It,” a presence that causes her emotional, mental, and physical symptoms. How will It affect her journey, and can her spirituality overcome It?

The Day the Dragon Cane by Marieke Nijkamp

The dragon rested. The tower wasn’t ready yet. The city was still growing. Its time would come.

This is another one that really stood out for me! It reads like a fantasy, where a crippled girl who uses a cane dreams of escaping the city she lives in, while a carpenter boy (I believe he is trans) helps the city he loves build a pillar for a dragon to come. I also loved this one – it’s so sweet and has great plot elements despite being a short story. M/f ship.

Captain, My Captain by Francisco X. Stork

– Today is the day. Now or never.

This story follows a Latino boy who moved from Mexico for a better life but starts hearing a voice – he calls it Captain America – in his head that starts dictating his actions. This one was super interesting, and I wish we got to see more!

Dear Nora James, You Know Nothing About Love by Dhonielle Clayton

I don’t date.

This is a contemporary story about a black girl with irritable bowel disorder who writes a love column, despite never being in a romantic relationship. Honestly I related to Nora James so much, not only because of her IBD, but also because of how anxiety stresses her digestive system out as well. It has super cute vibes from start to finish.

A Play in Many Parts by Fox Benwell

If all the world’s a stage, then all of life must be a script and every man the writer, the director, and the lead.

This story had super refreshing writing told through narration and screenplay. It could be a bit confusing at times, which is why I think readers will be conflicted. But I for one really enjoyed this theater outlook on the play Doctor Faustus and how to emanate his character. It follows a non binary mc who has chronic pain.

Ballad of Weary Daughters by Kristine Wyllys

Early sunlight, weak and pale, spilled through the small kitchen window, bathing Mama in shimmering gold.

A sweet and quiet contemporary following a girl who has way too much responsibility on her shoulders taking care of her siblings and finding solace with a beautiful and supportive Cuban girl. F/f ship. The main character is biracial (half Native American) and has bipolar II disorder.

Mother Nature by Keah Brown

Millie hadn’t created her first storm yet, but she knew when one was brewing.

This was a really cool contemporary where a girl with cerebral palsy gets back at her high school bullies by using her mysterious powers of nature. Definitely a story I wanted more of, featuring really awesome sibling dynamics.

A Curse, A Kindness by Corinne Duyvis

The collision happens in the space of a second.

This magical contemporary features an autistic girl who gets cursed to grant the three wishes of people who are kind to her. The next girl whose wishes she has to grant though, is ready to find a way to free her from this curse. Featuring a super cute f/f ship and satisfying ending.


I really enjoyed these stories and hope that more disabled characters are featured in Young Adult books to come. It’s something that isn’t thought much upon, but touches many people’s everyday lives. I can’t wait for readers to pick this one up and realize that you can be disabled, and still have an amazing adventure, fall in love, and save the world.

Trigger/Content Warnings: self harm, manipulation, abusive relationship, anxiety, mention of panic attack, misgendering

Rating: 4 out of 5


Thank you Fierce Reads for the review copy!


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Aila is a young adult reader who loves to transport herself to new dimensions through reading. She's currently an undergraduate student at university in the US. Let's talk about our obsessions on Twitter @aila_1woaa!


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