“They say you can’t be what you don’t see. Well, I just saw it.”Claire Forrest, Where You See Yourself
young adult fiction
disability (wheelchair user, cerebral palsy – based on author’s personal experiences)
The stunning debut that Nina LaCour called “beautiful” and “important.” Where You See Yourself combines an unforgettable coming-of-age tale, a swoon-worthy romance, and much-needed disability representation in this story about Effie, a wheelchair user who’s determined to follow her dreams.
By the time Effie Galanos starts her senior year, it feels like she’s already been thinking about college applications for an eternity—after all, finding a college that will be the perfect fit and be accessible enough for Effie to navigate in her wheelchair presents a ton of considerations that her friends don’t have to worry about.
What Effie hasn’t told anyone is that she already knows exactly what school she has her heart set on: a college in NYC with a major in Mass Media & Society that will set her up perfectly for her dream job in digital media. She’s never been to New York, but paging through the brochure, she can picture the person she’ll be there, far from the Minneapolis neighborhood where she’s lived her entire life. When she finds out that Wilder (her longtime crush) is applying there too, it seems like one more sign from the universe that it’s the right place for her.
But it turns out that the universe is full of surprises. As Effie navigates her way through a year of admissions visits, senior class traditions, internal and external ableism, and a lot of firsts—and lasts—she starts to learn that sometimes growing up means being open to a world of possibilities you never even dreamed of. And maybe being more than just friends with Wilder is one of those dreams…Summary from Storygraph
ableism, institutional discrimination and ableism, dysphoria, bullying, medical content
I first came across this book on a local bookstore’s “Disability Pride” table — and a few days later it was highly recommended by a close friend, with the caveat / trigger warning that it portrays the disabled student’s program at the academic institution I attended in a positive light.
The novel follows Effie, a white-American high school senior with cerebral palsy who uses a wheelchair. She’s amidst the college selection and application process, but unlike most of her peers, she has a major limiting factor in the schools she considers: whether or not the institution will cause additional challenges and inaccessibility for students with physical/movement disabilities.
Although I was hesitant to read any novel romanticizing disabled life at UC Berkeley, I also couldn’t turn away from a story about a situation I so deeply resonated with. And I’m glad I didn’t – not only did the book not spend too much time on Berkeley, it was incredibly cathartic to read about someone having similar fears about academic institutions.
I think the novel could have done more to address the additional challenges faced by multiply marginalized disabled young adults – I would have appreciated the mention, even if this wasn’t something the author could speak to in depth (for example: True Biz by Sara Novic).
I loved that, unlike most of the other books I’ve read in this genre featuring chronic illness and disability, this book didn’t read as a romantic, inspirational story for non-disabled folk to feel full of gratitude and pity. The reason for that is of course the fact that the author is, for the most part, writing from her own experiences and genuine understanding.
Something I strongly disliked about this book was its extremely positive portrayal of the disabled students’ program and disabled life as a (potential) student at the University of California, Berkeley. I say this as someone with physical disabilities who attended UC Berkeley very recently (I graduated just last year, in 2022) and had an unbelievably traumatic and inaccessible experience there stemming from the obstacles posed by the physical environment and the disabled student’s program (DSP). I’m currently writing a novel heavily inspired by this experience, but what I will say here is that I’m sick and tired of people assuming Berkeley excels at accessibility because of it’s historical relationship with the disability rights movement. I know for a fact that there are much, much more accessible universities out there, and although I do not claim to speak for every student requiring mobility accommodations at UC Berkeley, I can without a doubt say that the way I was treated is quite common for the institution. Although not a full-time wheelchair user myself, I’ve heard the same complaints from my other friends who are. I understand that the author did not attend the school, but I do wish there was more research conducted to ascertain that it lived up to its reputation in this realm.
Overall, I really hope that there aren’t disabled UC Berkeley prospectives reading this book. To them I want to say that in this fictional universe, Berkeley is a great choice–maybe the best choice–if physical accessibility is a consideration for you. However, in the real world, I wouldn’t wish the task of navigating that particular campus as a disabled student on anyone.
All in all, I would recommend this book to anyone and everyone, not just because it’s a wonderful and beautifully written coming of age story, but also because it’s unlike any of the others you’ve read before. I feel deeply uncomfortable with the portrayal of UC Berkeley and it’s accessibility, but I do think it sheds light to an important consideration for young adults with mobility issues that I haven’t seen discussed before in the genre. Here’s to more disabled stories 💙
“A wave of shaky heat washes over me as I realize that sometimes I don’t want to ask for accommodations because I want to feel ‘normal.’ But it is in those moments where I am not accommodated that I feel the least normal.”Claire Forrest, Where You See Yourself
Have you read this book? I’d love to hear your thoughts down below!
Thank you so much for reading, and I hope you have a wonderful rest of your day <3