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Review: Where You See Yourself - Claire Forrest

Genre: Young Adult Contemporary Published: Scholastic Press, May 2023

My Rating: 5/5 stars

“He clears his throat. ‘I do hope you know that you could’ve let me know about your obstacles, and I would’ve been happy to meet you anywhere else.’ An obstacle is a traffic cone, a hurdle, a mild inconvenience that you sail over and continue on your way. A human being shouldn’t be called an obstacle. It’s a disability. Just say the word; it isn’t a curse word."

I was completely open to love this book, but I didn’t expect to relate this much to the representation of being a disabled teen and college student.For better or worse; I did relate to it that deeply, and know I’m not alone in that experience. Claire Forrest has penned a deeply powerful and uplifting debut, about a life-experience I’ve never seen explored in young adult fiction before. I wish this book had been around when I was 18, but will happily take it now...

We follow Effie during that quintessential “choices-period” of life, that is your senior high-school year. Everyone is making big choices about what colleges to apply to, where to move once they leave the house, who to take to senior prom and how to spend the next summer. So is Effie, only she has some other factors to take into consideration. Effie is a fulltime wheelchair-user due to cerebral palsy, and where her current hometown is adapted to her (and she to it!), the upcoming changes in setting provide a complete new challenge. Between campus- and city-accessibility, adaptive dorm-living, parental- and peer-pressure, and her own preferences, Effie’s choice comes down to a two-way: her dream-college of Prospect NYC, or the “safer” and closer-to-home in her hometown. One of them being clearly less willing to adapt to her needs than the other…

Although the disability-representation was what spoke to me the most in this book (I’ve never seen the challenges of college-life explored this well before!), there’s far more to Effie’s story than just her disability. In fact, that’s what sets this book apart as a great, authentic and own-voice narrative. Claire Forrest depicts the disability aspects ánd the realities of “regular teen-life”, side-by-side without making one seem more profound or important over the other. She allows Effie the joys, hardships and drama of a full teen-life, experiencing first love, friendship, family-relationships, hobbies, academic pressure and more. All of these elements are equally formative to her identity; her disability being only one of them. I’m hoping this makes sense, but if you’ve read a bunch of bad-disability-writing you might understand why this is so unique in a genre where the disabled person is often so completely defined by their handicap, that they’re more of “a vessel for disability” than a full person in the narrative.

Where You See Yourself is simply a great YA-contemporary; it has wonderful friendship, a supportive family-dynamic (with its occasional healthy conflicts of course), campus-exploring adventures and a well-deserved romance that was actually adorable.

On a more personal note, what truly elevated this book into 5-star-favourite territory, was its message on the choice between schools, and why she chooses what she does. I won’t spoil her final decision, but I will go a bit into her motivations: don’t read ahead if you want to go in blind.

Effie begins the novel convinced that Prospect is her perfect dream-college, only to find its campus, living-facilities and schedule not adapted to her disability. When addressing these issues, she’s met with… not directly ableism, but something far more realistic and prevalent: indifference. She soon realizes that there are no other disabled students at Prospect, and picking her “dream school” will mean being a pioneer for disability/accessibility, with all the challenges that come with that. I have been there….

There’s a quote from the novel that summarizes that brilliantly:

“The thing is: I would’ve had to do all that anywhere, but at Prospect I would have to be an unpaid accessibility consultant too. It’s completely unfair to ask anyone to take on anyone’s fulltime salary job for them. I already have a job, and that’s to focus on being a student.”

At 18 year of age, I don’t think I had the maturity and self-respect to make the choice Effie does in the way she does it, but mán do I respect her for it!

Even if you may not agree with- or expect her choice, this is still a brilliant book and a new favourite for my disability-shelf that I will be shouting praise for for many years to come.

Find this book here on Goodreads

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