Author: Ruth Madison
Available in eBook?: Yes
Genre: Contemporary YA Romance
Final Verdict: Buy
My Take: Ruth Madison has returned to her debut novel, making some tweaks and filling out the story so that we now get alternate chapters between the two main characters. Although the pacing is off at times, it makes for a stronger, more cohesive piece than the original. The subject matter: a young woman dealing with her attraction to disability, gives a different perspective, and the characters are intriguing and sympathetic. This unique coming-of-age story is a worthwhile read, especially for anyone curious about the “devotee” label.
Based on my last few reviews, it probably seems as if I’m a huge fan of the Young Adult genre. In reality, I’m not; it just seems as if there are more YA novels featuring PWD than mainstream novels. Ruth Madison’s breakthrough novel (W)hole recently underwent revision and will release as a second edition on October 10th. (If you own the first edition, if you sign up for her publisher’s newsletter, you’re eligible for a voucher for a free copy of the new version). I was able to get my hands on a pre-release copy for review, and let me say that even if you read the original, the second edition is worth your time.
For those of you unfamiliar with the story, (W)hole is essentially a coming-of-age tale of Elizabeth, a senior in high school who has struggled all her life with her unique sexual proclivities: she’s attracted to men with disabilities. Convinced that these feelings are deviant and wrong, she’s done her best to suppress them/keep them secret, but when she meets the handsome and sexy Stewart at her cousin’s wedding, she’s determined to attempt a relationship with him.
Of course, things are complex. Elizabeth is terrified of Stewart’s discovering her secret while simultaneously being enthralled at finally having an opportunity to be with a man she’s attracted to physically. If that isn’t bad enough, Elizabeth’s fear of discovery–not to mention the fact that Stewart is seven years older and in college–leads her to initially keep their relationship secret from both her friends and her family. Stewart, meanwhile, has his own demons, and I thought the additional chapters from his perspective really helped to flesh out his character and construct a beautiful character arc.
Stewart, formally a world-champion surfer, has retreated from his old life, struggling with enormous guilt surrounding the events that lead to his injury. While things aren’t always smooth sailing between he and Elizabeth, while he helps her learn to come to terms with who she is, she simultaneously aids his journey to move beyond the shackles of his guilt and be the man he really is. As one of his friends accuses him at one point, “How come now that you’re in a wheelchair, you have to be a cripple?”
While not flawless, the brilliance of this book is in portraying Elizabeth–a devotee, a group often stigmatized for “preying” on the disabled–in an extremely sympathetic light. Even if you can’t understand why she feels the way she does (but then, even she doesn’t), you can at least sympathize with her struggle. Likewise, Stewart is the kind of character with a disability that I would like to see more of in fiction. Although Stewart considers his paraplegia a fundamental element of his identity, his disability isn’t his primary conflict, and Ms. Madison has obviously done her research in regards to SCI so that it isn’t glossed over, either. Stewart is a fully fleshed, three-dimensional character, not a focus for pity like in too many stories.
One of my favorite scenes in the book occurs when Stewart goes home for Christmas, and he tries to explain to his young cousin about the reality of his disability. She asks if he’s sad, and he responds:
“No. . . . How could I be sad when there are such beautiful things in the world?” He tickled the side of her face with [a twig from the rhododendron bush]. “People are going to say things about me in front of you. They are going to say things like ‘it’s such a tragedy’ and ‘his life isn’t worth anything anymore’ and ‘thank God that’s not me or anyone in my family.’ But you’ll know those things aren’t true. You’ll know in your heart, cousin Stewart loves his life and doesn’t think there’s anything wrong with him. You’ll remember that, won’t you?”
(W)hole is a sweet, genuine story that I’m sure most people can relate to, even if they never had to struggle with something like devoteeism. High school is hard enough, and if you’re at all different–because of your sexuality or something else–that struggle of identity is made all the more challenging. And in the end, that’s what this novel is really about: two characters each trying to decide who they are and what that means: can they put aside their fears and guilt and embrace the person they really are?
Although I still feel the sequel, Breath(e), which follows Elizabeth once she goes off to college in her continued battle with her devoteeism, is a stronger novel (which is also being re-released with a new cover and editing on October 10), this revised version of Ms. Madison’s debut is a solid read, and I look forward to seeing what else she has in store for us in the future.Share: