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YA A to Z: Telling a Different Amputee Story, a guest post by Mindy Rhiger

It’s the second week of January, which means we’re discussing the Letter A in YA A to Z. Today we are talking about amputees with the librarian and blogger Mindy Rhiger

You can find out more about YA A to Z here.


Perhaps I shouldn’t have chosen to read Phantom Limbs so quickly after reading Shark Girl. But in my defense, who expects another shark attack story?  What are the odds?

shark girl

If you’re reading fiction, the odds are pretty good that there will be a dramatic backstory for each character. That’s what we want, right? Lots of drama? That’s how we end up with so many shark attacks in fiction. When there aren’t sharks, there are tragic accidents that loom over our amputee characters’ pasts. There’s always something, and that something has probably taken away the thing our character loved the most.

I get it. This is a good story.


But, if I’m honest, I almost stopped reading Phantom Limbs when it was revealed to be a shark attack that took Dara’s arm. While it’s true that trauma is the cause of the majority of amputations (77%) and less than 10% are congenital like mine, I am tired of reading the same story over and over again. Not all amputees are survivors of trauma, and I expect that shark attacks are the cause of very few of those traumas. Perhaps less than 10%.

That is not to say that Phantom Limbs is a bad story. Nor are the many other stories published for young readers that follow the tragic accident/recovery formula. I’ve really appreciated a lot of what some of these books had to offer. The search for identity outside what people see in Shark Girl, the difference a prosthetic device can make in A Time to Dance, and the mixed feelings that come from getting attention from your physical difference in The Running Dream.

Amputee Awareness: 10 Facts You Should Know

But I admit that what I really want are stories with amputee characters that move away from the tragic accident/recovery formula. I want the few titles I do know of that do this to be more widely read.

I want these things because I get the question “How did you lose your arm?” from kids on a daily basis.

Because I recently had a child reply to my explanation of having been born without an arm with “Um, actually, I’m pretty sure you broke your arm.”

Because most adults never ask about my arm at all. They just assume that disability equals some kind of tragedy, either past (tragic accident) or present (loss of a treasured ability or talent).

Limb Loss Statistics – Amputee Coalition

People think they know my story without ever having to listen to it. Even if they don’t ask they fill in the tragedy from imaginations fueled by pop culture, including books. The truth is that my story is not tragic, and I had no recovery or adjustment period to work through, no loss to speak of. I was born with blond hair, blue eyes, five fingers, and ten toes. It’s an interesting fact about me, but that’s it. It is—has always been—my normal. I have no phantom pain, literally or metaphorically. In my experience, that’s the hardest thing for people to understand.

Disability in Kidlit

I like to think that one day I’ll write a novel for teens that captures my experience in a way that helps people understand, but until I get around to it, I’ll continue to direct readers who are open to a different kind of amputee story to these books:

For Middle Schoolers:

Insignificant Events in the Life of a Cactus by Dusti Bowling

Red Butterfly by A.L Sonnichsen,

For High Schoolers:


Dangerous by Shannon Hale

Tripping by Heather Waldorf

Girl Out of Water by Laura Silverman.

Meet Mindy Rhiger

Mindy Rhiger is a librarian and a writer in Minneapolis. She likes to read books and spend time with her family. Also, she is a congenital amputee and uses a prosthetic arm in her daily life. You can read more about it on her FAQ: Fake Arm 101. Proper Noun Blog – Twitter

Book Review: Piper by Jay Asher, Jessica Freeburg, and Jeff Stokely

Publisher’s description

piperLong ago, in a small village in the middle of a deep, dark forest, there lived a lonely, deaf girl named Maggie. Shunned by her village because of her disability, her only comfort comes from her vivid imagination. Maggie has a gift for inventing stories and dreams of one day finding her fairy-tale love.

When Maggie meets the mysterious Piper, it seems that all her wishes are coming true. Spellbound, Maggie falls hard for him and plunges headfirst into his magical world. But as she grows closer to the Piper, Maggie discovers that he has a dark side.

The boy of Maggie’s dreams might just turn out to be her worst nightmare…

With striking illustrations from Eisner-nominated artist Jeff Stokely, mixed with Jessica Freeburg’s work on historic and legendary horrors, Piper is an exciting new departure for Jay Asher that deftly touches on the same themes of truth, guilt, and redemption that made Thirteen Reasons Why a beloved bestseller.


Amanda’s thoughts

My first thought when I finished this was that I want someone to write about disability in this book. There are interesting things going on with Maggie, who is deaf and can read lips (even, apparently, without always looking at the person, if the art is to be believed), and the deaf rat, and “the boy with the crippled leg,” the only child to escape the piper. That person is not me, because I don’t think I have the insight to fully explore that topic, but someone should look at this.

In Hameln, rats are destroying the grain harvest and storage as well as biting residents and spreading disease. The local rat catcher can’t get a handle on it, so when a stranger appears who claims to be able to play music and control the animals, the town reluctantly agrees to his terms in hopes of finally being rid of the rats. The piper and Maggie, a deaf girl used to being tormented, form a bond. He shares a bit with her about how to find a common song to control creatures. He’s interested in accountability, justice, and consequences. Maggie believes in forgiveness, acceptance, and finding the value in everyone. While the piper eventually does what he says he will do, the town’s leaders are always wondering if he’s a fraud, or has some kind of dark magic, or brought the scourge on himself. Fed up with their reluctance to pay to him, the piper eventually leads the children out of town, positioning Maggie to become the new story’s hero.

This dark story of trust, control, and revenge is a quick read with great illustrations that add so much to the story. Readers unfamiliar with the Pied Piper story will be particularly engaged in this tale, curious to see where it goes. A good addition for reluctant readers and graphic novel fans. 


Review copy courtesy of the publisher

ISBN-13: 9780448493664
Publisher: Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date: 10/31/2017