Title: Sick Girls Secrets
Author: Anna Russell
Publisher: West 44
Genre: Literary Fiction, Teens & YA
Release Date: 1st August 2021 (US) 1st October 2021 (UK)
BLURB from Goodreads
Sometimes in high school, all you want is to be invisible. Being invisible might be the biggest problem of all for Natalie. She has a disability that causes chaos to her body on the inside but leaves her unmarked on the outside. She's learned to hide her pain so well that you would never guess she's not the same Natalie as she was before she got sick. But after having surgery, Natalie must return to school in a wheelchair. Now, Natalie has to decide if the painful consequences of pretending to be healthy are worth keeping the last of her sick girl secrets.
I have read this type of Hi Lo book before and truly enjoy them, in fact if you want a short read, or a book to get you out of a “reading rut” then I highly recommend them. Hi Lo stands for High Interest, Lower reading age. I think it is great that there are books to encourage those who perhaps don’t read as much or didn’t get the love of reading whilst younger. These books are also quite short, so you are not committing to reading a really long, involved, meandering read. The cover of this book quite appealing and could well be a scene from within the book where the main character in the book hides her wheelchair.
The main character is called Natalie and she has EDS (Ehlers Danlos Syndrome) which is a connective tissue disorder, which I can totally identify with as I have this disorder amongst other health/medical issues. Natalie can walk, and function like all the other teens at school but she is becoming so tired with pushing her body to it’s limits and beyond that it soon becomes apparent she cannot continue living the way she has been. Natalie needs a wheelchair, which will save some of her strength and “spoons” to use on doing other things. I won’t go into the “Spoon’s theory” as it is explained so eloquently by the character of Riley in the book. Natalie hates the thought of being “different” in any way so going to school and using a wheelchair is a big thing to her, even though she knows it is for her own good, health and wellbeing. However, Natalie is embarrassed and sneakily begins to hide her wheelchair, continuing to push her body to its limits.
The book shows how hard it is for someone with a disability, whether it be an invisible one or one that is clearly seen. There is only one other girl in the same school as Natalie that uses a wheelchair called Riley. Riley tries to befriend Natalie, help her come to terms with using her wheelchair, and get over her embarrassment, explaining it is not those with the disability that is the problem but those who choose to stare and refuse to adapt to accommodate them.
Though the book is about teenagers I could definitely identify with people, shops etc not being accessible enough. I also understood the reluctance of people to make adaptations for you when you are ill. The way friends disappear, even family members stop inviting you places when you have to turn them down as you are constantly dealing with fatigue from pushing your body to try and keep up with those around you. I think the book gives a very realistic view of how schools and colleges etc fail to help those with disabilities, I can remember printing off pages and pages of information, first telephoning my daughter’s school and then her college to explain her medical conditions and requirements for them to agree on the phone to only not follow through for my daughter. It really is frustrating as someone with invisible illness and as the mother of someone with them. I can also recognise the issues around wheelchairs as my mum has to use one. The way people tower over her to talk to her or ignore and speak to me, as well as walking straight in front of the wheelchair, standing in the way. And all that is before the problems of getting in and out of places with the wheelchair.
I enjoyed this totally frank view on how you are treat when you have a disability and want to truly thank this author for writing this book and in doing so raising awareness for EDS, Wheelchair users and those with disabilities. I should also add that the “spoon theory” is explained perfectly too.