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  • Writer's pictureThe Fiction Fox

Review: A Little Heart - Vladarg Delsat

Genre: Middle-grade

Published: Independently published by the author, december 2023

My Rating: 1/5 stars  

I don’t like to hate on independently published works, but when they are this horrifyingly bad and include harmful depictions of disability: I feel the need to actively warn people away from it.

What was supposed to be an uplifting and potentially empowering story of a girl with a chronic heart condition entering a wizarding school, ended up as (yes I’m calling it!) my worst read of 2023.

On a story-level:

I struggled to find a single redeeming quality in this book. The plot is barely existent and focusses solely on the insta-love relationship between Helen and her love-interest Philip, who “lovingly and heroically” steps up to help our feeble protagonist. (more on this dynamic later) The magic-school seems more of an after-thought and barely plays into the story. There is no other conflict in the plot to be resolved, other than the protagonists illness (again, more on this later).

The characters are flatter than cardboard: Helen is a fragile, damaged little girl and Philip is her loving helper. Their relationship is weak at the best of times, but far more often boarders on creepy and problematic. They are never portrayed as equal, Helen being dependent on Philip due to her disability, and their relationship is presented as far deeper than it has any right to be. From calling each other “my angel” after barely any page time together to an ACTUAL TEENAGE MARRIAGE; it all gave me the creeps, especially knowing this is penned by an older man... the part where he feeds her like a baby and its depicted as romantic/caring elicited a physical anger-response in me. 

Speaking of penning; I can’t tell if it’s the author fault or the translator, but the writing isn’t good. The prologue reads like every line was run through, giving it a strange pretentious feel given its target audience. After that, the character development (absent), pacing and overall ability to tell a compelling story just aren’t up to par.

On a representation level:

Worse than all of the above; this book could serve as the poster-child for everything you can do wrong in disability-representation in (childrens-)fiction. I will try to keep it short and succinct, but honestly: it’s worse than I can convey here.

Helen, our protagonist is portrayed as a completely passive victim to her life and body the entire time. Words like “weak” and “fragile” are constantly used for her, as well as all other characters referring to her as “girl”, and even “cripple” at one point. Note: that word isn’t challenged on page.

This goes beyond characters being ableist; it’s fundamentally built within the story.

Allow me to quote a literal passage of the book to show you just how little the author thinks of her (and subsequently disabled people as a whole…?)

“I have no future, I will never be able to give birth to a child, to be a mother, just because I can’t handle the strain. So there will be no family. And what is the point of living if there is no happiness anyway.”  

Again: not challenged on page!

Conversely, Philip is praised for the heroism of his caretakers role, perpetuating the idea that disabled people are nothing but a burden to their friends and family.

Is it any surprise then, that the author pulls out the oldest and most-hated trope in disability-fiction as well? That’s right: we have a magical healing to achieve a happy ending… I saw it coming form miles away, and it still burned me.

I cannot stress how inappropriate, hurtful and disheartening it is to still see stuff like this being written in 2023. Twisting the knife even deeper: this book is written by a medical doctor. A pediatrician at that… As a medical doctor ánd disabled person; this unfortunately made a lot of sense… The glorification of the caregiver, the objectification of the patient, the “must-cure-the-broken” mentality. It’s telling of a self-glorifying, pitying worldview within the profession that needs to go the way of the dodo.

If you want some recommendations for better and more positive disability-representation, you can find a full list on my blog, which I attempt to keep as up-to-date as possible. Safe to say: this book won’t be joining it.

Thanks to Netgalley and the author for providing me with an ARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

You can find this book here on Goodreads.

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