Have you ever read a book and felt like there was a bit of issue overload? Like it dealt with just too many topics, and you started to wonder if it was all maybe a bit too much for one story? I definitely have. But I’ve also read books that handled multiple issues incredibly well, and lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how, in real life, many of us deal with a lot. I mean, we don’t really get to say, “No, sorry, I’ve already had my fill of ‘issues’–it just isn’t believable that I would have one more.” Believable or not, life is what it is.
Take my family for instance: If I tried to write a book about my kids, people would read it and say, “This is so unrealistic. She just wanted to add in a bunch of diversity (or neurodiversity) for the sake of diversity.” And I honestly wouldn’t blame them. I don’t think I’d attempt to write my family into a book because we do not fit the “average”** mold and we would seem a little extreme. Let me give you a rundown:
- My youngest is a black internationally-adopted child with ADHD and a cognitive disability (due to the fact that he had encephalitis as an infant).
- My middle child suffers from anxiety. (Blessedly, it hasn’t been nearly as bad in recent years–she went through a really difficult time when she was younger and still has a harder time than most kids in social situations and with certain fears, but she’s doing really well these days).
- My oldest is a transgender girl who is most likely on the spectrum. (She was diagnosed ADHD as a child and we were told that she’s probably on the spectrum and definitely had social skills issues–but we never went back to get an actual diagnosis. She would describe it as not feeling things the same way that others apparently do.) She’s also amazingly gifted, especially in math–at 16, she’s taking Calc 3 at our local community college.
I was also on medication for ADHD once upon a time, but didn’t stick with it. Add to that the fact that we’re (active and engaged) Christians, and you get an interesting mix, to say the least.
And that’s just my immediate family. (I also had a cousin who was blind and schizophrenic, another cousin who died of AIDS, an uncle who is Deaf, a brother with spina bifida, family members with addictions and depression, and more …) Let’s just say a book about my family would be too packed with “issues” to feel reasonable.
And my family isn’t the only one. Pretty much every family I know would tick more than one issue box in their family checklist. Just looking at rates of things like ADHD, autism, learning disorders and mental health issues–they’ve all been going up in recent years (or at least they’re being diagnosed more). Add topics like disability, race, etc. and you’d be hard-pressed to find a kid who can’t relate to diverse situations being represented in books.
Anyway, it just made me realize that we shouldn’t necessarily be quick to jump to the idea that a book is unrealistic if the characters are dealing with a lot of issues or if one character has several “differences.” The important thing is how well those issues are all handled within the book (and accepting that some differences might be seen as a fact of life and not addressed at all except that they’re there). Sure, a book that tackles too many topics might not do justice to all of them. But when a book handles many issues well … it might be a whole lot more realistic than we realize.
As for me, I’ve learned to check my expectations about what’s “normal” at the door.
How do you feel about books that tackle multiple issues? Would your family make for “realistic” reading or would readers roll their eyes at the characters in your life story? I want to know!
**(I apologize for my liberal use of quotation marks in this post. I realize it’s out of control.)