Four novels, Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper, Wonder by R.J. Palacio, The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff, and Freak The Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, all include and think about characters who are different. For once, we are told that heroes don’t have to be perfect. We don’t have to use outcasts as props to make a hero look good - we don’t need to make them out to be helpless victims that need to be protected. They can be the main characters and the heroes, not just supportive characters lurking in the background. With characters we don’t usually see as main protagonists, these books are about acceptance, belonging, and being different.
Out of My Heart by Sharon M. Draper circles around a girl named Melody, who has cerebral palsy and uses a wheelchair. In this sequel to Out of My Mind, Melody goes to summer camp for kids with disabilities. At camp, she plays balloon ball, swims, paints, rides a horse, and even goes on a zip-line, things she thought she’d never do before. Her counselor is kind, and all around her Melody sees walkers, wheelchairs, and much more. And most importantly, she makes friends. And though nobody can be exactly the same as her, she’s finally found people that accept her, and a place where she belongs.
In Wonder by R.J. Palacio, Auggie is a boy with cleft palate and other facial differences that make him an outcast. People either think Auggie is a freak and that he’s disgusting or a poor child with a disability who needs pity. For these reasons, Auggie has been homeschooled by his protective parents who watch him constantly. But Auggie’s finally going to middle school, and though he tries to prove to others that he’s “normal,” nobody accepts him anyway. Friends can change to enemies quickly, and then back. People aren’t good or bad, they’re complicated, and this makes things confusing for Auggie. But through his troubles and challenges, he finds a group that lets him just be himself, not a category, and he decides not to be “normal.” Because why try to fit in when you can just be yourself with the right people?
The Thing About Georgie by Lisa Graff is about a boy named Georgie who has dwarfism. Georgie's middle name is Washington, and his idol is the founding father George Washington. But when he gets paired with Jeanie the Meanie for a history project, he is having trouble cooperating with her. She isn’t nice to him, and she signs him up for the school play about American presidents, but to play Abraham Lincoln! Abraham Lincoln was the tallest American president, and all of a sudden Georgie feels very, very short. On top of it all, his parents are going to have a baby, and Georgie is not excited to soon see his sibling outgrow him year by year and be able to do all the things that Georgie can’t. And Georgie’s friend Andy seems to be more involved with the new kid, Russ, than him. So, overall, Georgie’s problems are big. But when Georgie realizes that Jeanie the Meanie isn’t so bad and begins to resolve his problems with Andy, Georgie finds that he doesn’t have to be big to do big things, and that love doesn’t depend on size. True friends don’t care about what you look like. They appreciate you no matter what.
In Freak the Mighty by Rodman Philbrick, Max is a boy who is tall for his age, in a special class at school, and thinks of himself as “stupid.” But Max discovers that he’s not stupid at all - he’s very smart, it's just just nobody has realized it yet. When “Freak” - or Kevin, a former acquaintance of Max's - moves into the neighborhood, Max learns that with Kevin’s imaginative, smart brain and Max’s large body, they can become “Freak the Mighty.” Together they go on rescue missions and adventures; they seem to be able to go anywhere they want to go. But Kevin isn’t fine, and neither is Max. Kevin’s health condition isn’t easy to deal with, and Max has problems with his father. But Max and Kevin are always there for each other.
When many people say “disability” or “different,” they also say “how unfortunate.” They don’t see people like Melody, Auggie, Georgie, Max, and Kevin as individuals, they see them as nothing but handicaps. But Out of my Mind, Wonder, The Thing About Georgie, and Freak the Mighty allow us to see people who happen to have disabilities or are otherwise different for who they truly are: funny, intelligent, and caring friends who follow their own paths.