Disability representation

Book Review: The Amazing Edie Eckhart

Author: Rosie Jones
Illustrator: Natalie Smillie
Publisher: Hodder Children’s Books (2021)
Genre: Contemporary fiction (for a middle grade readership).

Digital drawing of a young girl with brown hair. She is smiling and wearing a blue dress and patterned leggings. Subheading says 'Being a little wobbly won't stop her.' She is surrounded by drawings of milkshakes and theatre masks and holding a diary in one hand.
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Image description in alt text.

This review contains spoilers for parts of the novel.

“Edie Eckhart is Excited with a capital E to start secondary school with her best friend Oscar – the fish to her chips, the bananas to her custard. But when she and Oscar are put into different tutor groups on their first day, Edie is devastated. Who will play secret hangman with her in class? Who will she eat sausage rolls with?

But while she’s plotting her reunion with Oscar, she accidentally gets cast as the lead in the school play. As Edie discovers a passion for performance, she also finds new friendships, talents, and dreams. After all, it’s easy to shine on and off the stage when you’re Amazing with a capital A.”

I admit that I was a bit worried when I saw the word “amazing” in the title that Edie’s story might lean a little towards inspiration porn. But the story illustrates that Edie is amazing not because she’s disabled. Her friends and family think she’s amazing because she’s a talented actress, a caring sibling and a thoughtful friend who happens to have cerebral palsy. Rosie Jones explored the ups and downs of friendship and romance in early adolescence alongside ableism and disability pride.

Able-boded readers will learn so much from Edie’s story, and disabled readers will be able to relate to equally as much. For instance, Edie’s new friend Georgia was initially reluctant to use the word “disability” about Edie. Many children and adults are reluctant to use it but, as Edie noted in her diary, “you can say ‘disabled’…it’s not a bad word you know…It doesn’t bother me and you shouldn’t be bothered by it either.” Similarly, Edie’s classmates stared at her on her first day. She reflected, “I understand they must have questions but I wish they’d just ask…They think it’s rude to ask. It’s not. Asking means you can get answers…and we can all just get on with our lives.” On the other hand, Edie’s friend Poppy exemplified inclusivity when she checked that a venue and activity was accessible before she booked it. As a reader who also has CP, I appreciated and related to these elements as well as the following point.  Novels featuring disabled characters rarely demonstrate the fatigue that accompanies cerebral palsy (it hasn’t appeared in any of the novels I’ve read about CP in any case). Jones included a scene where Edie had to run as part of her Physical Education class, and she was so tired afterwards that she fell asleep in her science class. Edie didn’t view this as a bad thing, just as part of her life. Rather than despairing about or bemoaning her disability, Edie embraced it as part of herself.  

As well as embracing her disability, Edie learned to embrace new friendships and romance! Edie was initially unaware of how dependent she had become on her best friend, Oscar, but secondary school forced her to confront it and become her own person. Oscar joined the football team and Edie found a passion of her own by acting the lead role in the school play. She made new friends, most notably Flora, who was a young carer. Jones wrote a character who was part of multiple minority groups in Edie: female, disabled and queer. Edie didn’t think of herself with that label and it took her a long time to recognise her feelings for Flora as more than platonic. At eleven/twelve-years-old it seemed like Edie and her friends might be too young to focus so much on partners/boyfriends. Maybe that becomes a focus earlier in the UK?

The diary layout, with short entries for each day and illustrations to break up the text, made this an ideal book for younger readers. Jones also captured the voice of young people through the use of abbreviations like “lits” and “legit.”  

My favourite line was Edie’s teacher, Mrs. Adler’s response when Edie asked her about best friends:

“I don’t think I have a best friend…I have friends from school, university, work and I go to them all for different reasons.”

The Amazing Edie Eckhart is a fun #OwnVoices children’s novel that delivers an important message about disability pride and the necessity of accessibility and inclusion. I’d recommend it for children everywhere!

You can buy a copy of The Amazing Edie Eckhart from Booktopia.

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