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Accidents of Nature [Paperback]

Harriet McBryde Johnson
4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

3 April 2008

Seventeen-year-old Jean has cerebral palsy and gets around in a wheelchair, but she's always believed she's just the same as everyone else. She goes to normal school and has normal friends. She's never really known another disabled person before she arrives at Camp Courage. But there Jean meets Sara, who welcomes her to 'Crip Camp' and nicknames her Spazzo. Sara has radical theories about how people fit into society. She's full of rage and revolution against pitying insults and the lack of respect for people with disabilities.

As Jean joins a community unlike any she has ever imagined, she comes to question her old beliefs and look at the world in a new light. The camp session is only ten days long, but that may be all it takes to change a life forever.



Product details

  • Paperback: 240 pages
  • Publisher: Andersen (3 April 2008)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1842707418
  • ISBN-13: 978-1842707418
  • Product Dimensions: 13.2 x 19.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 821,029 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

"an edgy and compelling narrative that will prompt readers to re-evaluate their own attitudes and assumptions." (Kate Agnew Guardian)

"It blew my mind! It's an extraordinary book - honest and tough, heartbreaking and cruel and it made me re-think so much." (Wendy Cooling)

"Whatever your situation, this subversive and mind-shattering novel will change your views forever. Endless food for thought. Every young person should read it." (Northern Echo)

"This book is smart and honest, funny and eye-opening. A must-read." (Starred Review School Library Journal)

"Wry, at times searing ... Readers will find this journey with Jean a rare privelege, as she rethinks her place in the world." (Starred Review Publishers Weekly)

Book Description

A fascinating myth-busting story about how kids at a disability holiday camp REALLY feel.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too 23 Oct 2006
By TeensReadToo TOP 500 REVIEWER
Format:Hardcover
Jean feels fantastic about her place in the world. Why shouldn't she? She's seventeen, an honor student at Crosstown High School, her friends are great, and her family supports all of her dreams. But this summer, Jean spreads her wings, away from the cocoon of her parents, friends, and her small town, and spends time at Camp Courage--"Crip Camp," as the campers sarcastically refer to it--a camp for children with physical and mental disabilities, and she finds her confidence is shaken. For the first time, Jean must admit that, because of her cerebral palsy, she is different from the other kids at her high school.

Set in 1970 with an epilogue to bring the reader into the year 2000, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent overview of how kids with a range of challenges--cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, autism, asthma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy--feel condescended to by the world. For example, to make sure no one feels bad at the camp carnival, everyone wins a prize at the games. Jean and her friend Sara refuse to play, on the basis that there is no challenge in playing a game if one is certain to win. The games then become a metaphor for Crip life, as Jean muses:

"When the games are rigged, does it make everyone a winner--or no one? ... I believe in competition. The program seems to be that handicapped people aren't up to it; we can only pretend to be winners. I don't want to pretend. I want to achieve, really achieve. Or I will take my disappointments just like anyone else."

Johnson captures the pain, anger, and fear of being shunned by the "normal" world in the character of Sara, and explores the naiveté of thinking that no one notices one's differences in the character of Jean.
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Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  11 reviews
16 of 16 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Spaaz Meets the Downers 12 July 2006
By Michael T. Bailey - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
"Accidents of Nature"

Harriet McBryde Johnson

Henry Hole & Co.

New York

Review by Taylor and Michael Bailey

It is not easy to place "Accidents of Nature" into a neat category.

Is it a novel for young adults? A treatise on disability culture? Or, simply, a well-crafted story of how one woman learns that, by accepting others, she comes to accept herself?

The basic tale is simple. Jean, a 17-year-old woman with Cerebral Palsy, has always attended school with "normal" classmates. Her protective family has done everything possible to ignore Jean's differences and provide her with all the trappings of life without a disability. Jean confronts some very real truths about herself, her disability, and her connection to other people with disabilities when she faces a week of summer camp. The typically named "Camp Courage" caters entirely to people with disabilities and it is they she must deal with during her week away from family, home and her regular circle of "friends."

We read this book with care. Partly because it is a good read and partly because our daughter/sister is 18-years-old and is a person with Down syndrome. Like the character, Jean, from the book, she has always been in

"regular" classrooms and had school friends with no disabilities. What we have learned is that her friendships only go so far. Her "friends," like Jean's,

only pursue her, or tolerate her, within the bounds of school. Although no one is actually mean to her, it is clear to everyone that she is different and that there are limits on how much time and energy her classmates are willing to devote. And, like Jean, she has learned a lot about herself by going to a place called Mt. Hood Kiwanis Camp, which, like the fictional "Camp Courage" is for people with disabilities only.

Jean has been exposed to politically correct people and circumstance. So she is quite shocked when she meets Sara. Sara calls the camp "Crip Camp"

and promptly labels Jean as "Spazzo." Jean is quite distressed by these characterizations and her fellow campers whose facial deformities, speech, lack of coordination and odd behavior shock and, at the same time, intrigue her.

Throughout her week at Crip Camp Jean is exposed to "the world according to Sara." Sara ridicules the notion of charity, the pomposity of the camps sponsors and the whole culture of "do-gooders." Sara revels in her disability.

She also manages to get poor Jean into a lot of hot water with her comments and misbehavior.

As the week moves along Jean comes to see more and more that Sara's seemingly mocking and tasteless behavior carries with it a seed of truth that

no one has every expressed before in her presence. It becomes clear to Jean that, like it or not, Sara is telling the truth and that she, Jean, has a mysterious connection with all the other campers that regular school, determined parents and a blind eye cannot erase. Jean finds, at camp, a window on a whole new view of life that makes her happier and sadder, wiser and more curious and, mostly, more at peace with herself and the truth of her place in the universe.

As our family member moves into the world of young adulthood we see her experiencing some of the same things as Jean. To she and her pals with Down syndrome they are the "Downers." They like the "Down syndrome girls supper club" and other disabled-only shenanigans they cook up. She moves about quite skillfully in the world of the temporarily able-bodied but finds her real friends, the people who understand, the people she can be goofy with, among her peers with disabilities.

This book is not anti-inclusion. Quite the opposite. Jean learns that her life in the "real world" will never be real if it is based on a paradigm of rigid segregation from people like herself, or if she is only and always treated as some kind of exhibit that needs to be treated courteously but is never afforded a real place in the human family.

We were struck by what a well-established character Jean is. Her interaction with Sara is the catalyst for self-discovery. Jean, through the roguish character of Sara, is altered profoundly. The new discoveries she makes mature and change her is ways she had never considered.

This story is funny and sad and clear and obscure and, above all, wise. If you have a family member with a disability this book will awaken you to the fact that they are fully endowed human beings. People with their own inside jokes, bitterness and point of view. The book is a joy to read for anyone.

And, who knows, perhaps it will cause you, like Sara, to open your imagination to a complex and complete world, a world based on truth and not perched precariously on the edge of an artificially created world of telethons, charity and good intentions which, inevitably lead to isolation and artificial trappings.

It is a conclusion important to every young person and especially young adults with disabilities longing to find a path in life that is right for them.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Disability Power! 2 April 2007
By Bigwheels1971 - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jean always believed that she was just like everyone else: a pretty, popular, high school senior. The fact that she used a wheelchair did not matter to her, or to anyone. That was before she arrived at Camp Courage. It is there that she meets Sara, an assertive, outspoken, disability rights advocate who makes Jean question everything she thought she knew about herself and the world. Jean begins to learn about disability pride and that being different can be an empowering experience.

I went to a camp for people with disabilities for many years. I always had a good time there and look back on that time in my life with fond memories. I always felt respected as a person with only a couple exceptions. Reading about Jean's experience made me glad that I went to the camp I attended. I do not think anyone there was evil. It was just interesting to read the seemingly divergent viewpoints of the campers and staff. I also found it fascinating reading about living with a disability in a time before any civil rights protections had been enacted for people with disabilities.

The epilogue was frustrating for me, until I realized this was probably a true story. Books like this make me realize how important it is for me to be involved in disability advocacy. I am very glad I read this book and even if you do not have a disability, I think the themes of discovering who you are and who you want to be are very relatable.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Courtesy of Teens Read Too 23 Oct 2006
By TeensReadToo - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Jean feels fantastic about her place in the world. Why shouldn't she? She's seventeen, an honor student at Crosstown High School, her friends are great, and her family supports all of her dreams. But this summer, Jean spreads her wings, away from the cocoon of her parents, friends, and her small town, and spends time at Camp Courage--"Crip Camp," as the campers sarcastically refer to it--a camp for children with physical and mental disabilities, and she finds her confidence is shaken. For the first time, Jean must admit that, because of her cerebral palsy, she is different from the other kids at her high school.

Set in 1970 with an epilogue to bring the reader into the year 2000, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent overview of how kids with a range of challenges--cerebral palsy, muscular dystrophy, amputations, autism, asthma, multiple sclerosis, epilepsy--feel condescended to by the world. For example, to make sure no one feels bad at the camp carnival, everyone

wins a prize at the games. Jean and her friend Sara refuse to play, on the basis that there is no challenge in playing a game if one is certain to win. The games then become a metaphor for Crip life, as Jean muses:

"When the games are rigged, does it make everyone a winner--or no one? ... I believe in competition. The program seems to be that handicapped people aren't up to it; we can only pretend to be winners. I don't want to pretend. I want to achieve, really achieve. Or I will take my disappointments just like anyone else" (p. 136).

Johnson captures the pain, anger, and fear of being shunned by the "normal" world in the character of Sara, and explores the naiveté of thinking that no one notices one's differences in the character of Jean. Weaving the two together through the bond of friendship, Johnson creates a captivating, educational storyline.

The overwhelming negative of this book--and the reason I am awarding four stars instead of five--is the epilogue. Without giving away the ending, I'll say that I'm not sure what the author was thinking when she wrote this epilogue; I can think of no other way to describe it but as frustrating, aggravating, and absolutely annoying. Ms. Johnson, what were you thinking?

Still, ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is an excellent book, overall, and well worth a reader's time; I recommend it with a strong four stars.

Reviewed by: Mechele R. Dillard
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Life viewed from the spirit 17 Sep 2008
By 4 wheels - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Harriet McBryde Johnson's passing should be mourned for many reasons, but her chronicled life and spirit live on in her writings. Everyone should read this book just simply to learn the love that Harriet had just for being alive and the adventures that each circumstance presented her with everyday. Such a wonderful person that will be missed each day.
2 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars a thought-provoking and eye-opening novel 31 May 2006
By Teen Reads - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Seventeen-year-old Jean has always believed she is the same as everyone else, even though she has cerebral palsy and has to get around in a wheelchair. Jean goes to a normal high school, is in academic clubs, and likes to go to the movies with her friends. She has never known another person living with a disability until she goes to Camp Courage during the summer of 1970 and begins to see herself, and the world around her, in a whole new light. There she meets a whole community of other children and young adults living with various disabilities.

When Jean arrives at the camp, she first encounters Dolly, a girl with severe CP who provides some comical moments throughout the book, as she likes to talk about her love of late-night talk show host Johnny Carson and her highly anticipated risque novella she's been writing. Then Jean meets Sara, a Camp Courage veteran who introduces her to the "Crip Camp" and some other campers. She nicknames Jean "Spazzo" and tells her about some of the social circles that make up the camp. Jean soon discovers that her wisecracking cabin mate has radical ideas, especially when it comes to how people with disabilities are viewed by society, and is often angry by the lack of respect that she and many other campers receive. Through the social commentary on this topic and many others in the book, it is not too difficult to see what issues have been dramatically improved since 1970 and which are still being debated today in 2006.

While Jean socializes with the other campers, she begins to question some of her old beliefs and what the definition of "normal" is in her world. By the end of those enlightening 10 days, her life is changed forever.

While there are some social issues in ACCIDENTS OF NATURE that may make some readers uncomfortable, such as the dance party scene (I thought some of those counselors would have been sued today for misconduct and sexual harassment), this is a great story and an eye-opener. It helps to show that even if a person has a physical or mental challenge, it does not mean that they can't lead a normal life nor does it mean that they shouldn't be given the same level of respect as everyone else. I understand this unfortunate social disgrace because I've been there.

Harriet McBryde Johnson has been an activist for disability rights for many years, and her adult memoir, TOO LATE TO DIE YOUNG, was published in 2005. ACCIDENTS OF NATURE is highly recommended as an addition to your "must read" list.

--- Reviewed by Sarah Sawtelle (SdarksideG@aol.com)
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