If you are a person with a disability or a person who is partnered with, cares for, or cares about a person with a disability I feel that you MUST read the series Translucent (Seriously, these are books you NEED to read). Okay, yes, it is manga, which is a japanese comic style of story telling, but printed in English. "Oh no, a manga!" is going to turn some people off, but I ask you to hold off on your assumptions or feelings of “not for me” until I explain. This series is about a person with a disability and the people around them as they try to fit in, try to find their place in society, fulfill and work towards their dreams, have problems and setbacks but lean on each other and get back up to try again. I know that is something I can relate to, and I think you can too.
Translucent is about an eighth grade girl named Shiroyama and a guy who likes her named Tadami. Only Shiroyama has this new chronic disease called translucent syndrome which makes parts of her (sometimes all of her) literally translucent (or invisible). Through book 1 and book 2 she meets adults who have the same condition and by facing and working through situations and through their advice she struggles to find out what a 'normal' life is like with a chronic condition. So why I am recommending this series so strongly? Because in these books, the disease ‘translucent syndrome’ is really a metaphor for any chronic condition and narrated from both her view and the view those around her. The series is able to address not just what it is like both physically and mentally to have a chronic condition in today’s society, but also the viewpoint of the caregiver, the friend, and the cost to THEM of seeing the person they care about hurt by society (as well as the rewards they get FROM that relationship). Linda read the book and we talked about it, because for her it was able to voice a lot of how she views me; why though I am sure I am a burden and she will leave, she does not see it that way. Book two in the series has more of the adult relationships and goes into exactly what do the caregivers and friends get out of the relationship: why it IS worth it. Okay, now tell me you have found a book or series or movie that depicts you and your life regarding disability in this way. I’m guessing like me, beyond a small handful, you haven’t, because any book on disability is far and few between. That is why I don’t want you to miss this one.
The series (currently published up to book two: available used or in the 3 for 4 offer at Amazon for Book 1 and Book 2 - you can also read the first bit of each book there as well by clicking on “Search Inside”), plainly shows the social attitudes toward people with disabilities. Shiroyama is whispered about, “There is that girl.”, “I wonder what it feels like?” And we see Shiroyama trying SO hard to fit in, to be ‘normal’ (indeed she and another girl named Okouchi have an odd friendship/relationship as Okouchi is naturally athletic and beautiful and wishes she could ‘just disappear’; she wishes she could be like Shiroyama, while Shiroyama wants to be like Okouchi – oh those high school days, never loving ourselves much). We see Shiroyama try to hide the pain as teachers brutally exclude her because of her disability (“What if you became translucent? We can’t take the chance”) while it is up to her and her friends to find the solutions to convince others that yes, this can and will work (reminds me of when I was trying to get permission to do wheelchair boxing).
Shiroyama meets Keiko, an older woman who has advanced stages of the syndrome, who tells her not to delude herself, that she must learn to be independent because if she has a partner, she won’t be able to support them as much as she needs support (Keiko’s ex-boyfriend feels differently and is constantly trying to convince Keiko otherwise). This gives Shiroyama the ‘disability guilts.’ She doesn’t want to be the person who makes her boy friend Tadami stop smiling. She thinks she will suck out his joy because he worries so much about her, or he will have to look out for her, or is stuck with her (see panel below – click to enlarge).
Shiroyama, because of her condition is plagued with doubts and the more she puts herself out there, the more hurt she risks. She loves acting and wants to be an actress. But then, though chosen as the lead of the school play, she wonders if she should pull out, because what if she becomes translucent and ruins it for everyone (I’ve had this feeling in many different variations). Her friend Okouchi gives her a bit of a slap and tells her to smarten up, because, yes, she is going to have to take chances and yes, people will hurt her but she either lives in fear the rest of her life or not. (see panel below –click to enlarge).
The second book has Tadami and Shiroyama go on a date and includes some kids staring at Shiroyama’s disability and start making comments. Tadami steps in and turns things around, showing how he views her and how isn’t the syndrome cool! But secretly he has been reading everything he can and as defacto caregiver is becoming worried and obsessed not only about his own helplessness at times but not knowing enough to make sure he can help Shiroyama (strike any chords with caregivers out there?). He ends up having a long talk with Keiko’s on and off again boyfriend, who explains to him why he is there for Keiko and why he knows she is the one for him. Meanwhile Shiroyama is going to acting auditions and getting turned down. She doesn’t know if it is because they only see her disability or because she just isn’t a good enough actress (again, this resonates with me; in job interviews, in social situations – is it me, or is it my disability?). The books regularly include the way that medical treatment, examinations and the entire medical system which has become part of Shiroyama’s life. In book two it includes an incident of physician discrimination: where he either doesn’t believe her, isn’t comfortable treating her and/or includes the other types of discrimination females with disabilities can receive at the hands of doctors. It is the inclusion of incidents like this, the REAL LIFE aspect of it which make me recommend this series so highly.
One of the purposes of literature is so that we can see our own lives and ourselves reflected and there just isn’t a lot of disability related fiction literature out there. So whether you are a teen or an adult with a disability; whether a teen or an adult who is a friend, a partner, a boyfriend, a girlfriend or someone significant in the life of a person with a disability, I recommend you buy and share this series of books. What other books reflect the lives of both the person with disability AND the caregiver/partner/friend; what other books can be read by both people and discussed so the person on each side learns a little more about what it is to be the person on the OTHER side. I learned more in reading and talking about these books with Linda about why she WANTS to be with me, than I ever learned in trying to analyze her motives my head (which was filled with my own insecurities). The books spoke for her, articulating what she felt, but could not make me understand. It even reflects and makes me understand why Linda gets so bossy (because she is worried) reflected when Tadami does the same as he feels that Shiroyama isn’t taking enough care of herself, isn’t understanding how serious medical complications from her condition could become.
Don’t worry, I haven’t ruined the plot but only scratched the surface of some of the many reasons you should pick up this series. Linda, who finds manga hard if not impossible to read (because of the drawing style) found these books easy to read and follow and enjoyed them a lot. Each book is about 200 pages and Book 3 is coming out Jan 23rd (you know I have a copy on order). Seriously, for those partners, for those friends, for those lovers, for those with disabilities; don’t you want to read a series of books where YOU are the hero?
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