As far as important reads for 2017 go, make sure you add ‘I Have No Secrets’ by Penny Joelson to your TBR list.
‘I Have No Secrets’ is a thrilling, crime novel that’s increasing awareness of disability in YA. Jemma, the main protagonist and narrator of the story, has severe cerebral palsy. The condition means that she can’t communicate or move.
A lot of people in the novel treat Jemma differently because of her disability. They’re not doing this on purpose – at least not all of them are. They just naively assume that Jemma’s brain doesn’t work as well as theirs and rather than treat her like the smart 14-year-old girl she is, they act as if she’s still a child.
Like the sound of it? Well, you should.
All-in-all, the novel is an eye opening look at the way we treat people with a disability. It will make you sit up and assess the way that you’ve spoken to people with disabilities in the past.
Penny’s read is doing great things for the world of YA. So much so that we thought we’d share with you 7 of the most important quotes from ‘I Have No Secrets’.
1. Jemma talking about how other people treat her
“I’ve been this way all my life. I can see, though, and I can hear, and sometimes people forget that; they don’t realise that I have a functioning brain. Sometimes people talk about me as if I’m not even there. I hate that.”
If there’s one quote in the book that sums up how everyone treats Jemma, it’s this one.
2. People dismissing Jemma because of her disability
‘Is she compos mentis?’ the man, PC Hunt, asks Mum quietly as she comes back in.
‘Oh yes, but she can’t communicate, I wish she could – Sarah talks to her a lot.’
‘Not much use to use, then,’ PC Hunt mutters, screwing up his nose.
I wish I could kick him.
As well as change the way they communicate with Jemma people also treat her differently. PC Hunt dismisses her quickly and sees Jemma as ‘no use’ due to her disability.
3. The importance of communication
After I couldn’t control the blinking, it’s hard to admit, but part of me felt relieved. It was a relief to go back to just watching and not having to decide. But it’s different now. I’d give anything for the change to be able to do it again. I’m older and there’s no much I want to say.
Throughout the book, Jemma discusses her longing to be able to communicate. It’s something that everyone else around her can do and there are some heart-rending moments where she’s reflecting on what life would be like if she could communicate.
4. The frustration of not being able to communicate
She looks into my eyes for clues. I wish they could give her some. She feels my brow, inspects my arms, legs and chest for rashes. Then she get the ear thermometer and takes my temperature. Hopefully once she’s sussed I’m not ill, she’ll work out how unhappy I am.
The book also discusses the many frustrations those who can’t communicate face. When Jemma is unhappy or sad, people naturally assume it’s due to something physical.
5. The difficulty of forming relationships due to lack of communication
No one understand. When I’m worried and I just want reassurance I have no way of getting it. Then my worries just grow and grow. Mum and Dad assume it’s something physical because it so often is, but all I want is to be able to tell them how I feel…
Equally, forming relationships when you can’t communicate is tough. Jemma has a loving relationship with both her parents. That said, there are plenty of challenging moments in the novel where Jemma can’t get her point across, which again leads to frustration and highlights the struggle she’s facing internally.
6. The unease of disability
All night my mind tosses and turns even though my body can’t.
We love this brilliant quote about how those with disabilities can have an active mind. It’s simple but gets the point across.
7. Body representation in disability
Mum printed the photo of Jodi and me, and now it is by my bed. I thought it might bother me that Jodi is beautiful and I am now, but when I look at the picture all I see is the likeness. She is what I was meant to be – what I really am inside. Seeing her I feel as if I am that beautiful. It makes me feel stronger. It’s hard to explain but I never imaged that before that even if I wasn’t disabled that I wouldn’t have looked so lovely. Now I can imagine it and instead of feeling sad that am not the same as her, I feel happy.
Alongside all the topics covered above, ‘I Have No Secrets’ also delves into body representation in disability. Jemma never saw herself as pretty due to her condition. It’s an emotional scene, but one where we see Jemma grow and evolve as a character.
Strewth, we love her!
What are your favourite YA reads with disabled characters in them? Let us know in the comments below. You can by ‘I Have No Secrets’ by Penny Joelson by clicking here.