Sun 30 Oct 2011
One of the the things I’ve always liked about Artie Abrams, one of the Glee Club members at William McKinley High School — besides his beautiful singing voice — is that he doesn’t seem overly fixated on the fact he’s in a wheelchair.
Yes, Artie has had moments where he’s dreamed of being a dancer. And, yes, he’s researched technology that could allow him to walk in the future. But most of Artie’s energy seems to be focused on similar concerns as the rest of the Glee Club kids — who is he in love with this episode — Brittany? Tina? And, with Season Three under way, a lot of his effort is going into being a director for the schools production of “West Side Story.”
Even when Artie was given a contraption that allowed him to stand for short periods of time in last year’s Christmas episode, he didn’t want it for himself. He wanted it for Brittany, who had asked Santa Claus to make her boyfriend walk. He didn’t want her to be disappointed if her wish wasn’t granted. Just some evidence that Artie’s basically a nice guy.
That’s all well and good.
But if I were the librarian at William McKinley High School, I’d suggest Artie read Harriet McBryde Johnson’s Accidents of Nature (Henry Holt and Co., 2006).
It’s a book about Jean, a teenager growing up in 1970. She’s in a wheelchair. She has cerebral palsy. She’s smart and opinionated, but she can’t make her body do what she wants it to. And, she has a hard time speaking so others can understand her.
Jean spends part of her summer at a camp for kids with disabilities. It’s the type of camp you wouldn’t find today. It combines kids with every possible kind of disability. There are kids in wheelchairs because of diseases like cerebal palsy. Kids in wheelchairs because of accidents. Kids with epilepsy. Kids who are super-intelligent. Kids with a variety of severe cognitive disabilities. And even a few kids referred to as “walkie-talkies” who walk and talk without any problems, but have other issues like epilepsy, anger-management or even asthma.
As you might imagine, the staff has a hard time coming up with activities everyone can do.
This is all eye-opening for Jean. She’s been a bit over-protected by he parents, and she’s the only kid in a wheelchair in her public high school, and even though she needs someone to feed her and dress her and move her in and out of her wheelchair, she’s always considered herself pretty much like everyone else at her school.
Being with a group of kids with all kinds of abilities and challenges makes Jean re-evaluate herself, her family and her friends, and her newly formed opinions aren’t always positive. Her cynical cabinmate, Sara, forces Jean to expand her world view, review her life goals and question people’s motives.
In some ways, it’s a disturbing book.
But it’s also a valuable story of friendship and self-discovery. I think Artie would see it as such, and he’d also be pleased that he’s growing up now instead of in the ’70s.
Unlike Jean, Artie, who’s portrayed by Kevin McHale (and NOT the Kevin McHale who used to play for the Boston Celtics), is very self-sufficient. And because he can use his arms and speak clearly, he fits in much more easily than Jean ever could. But I sometimes wonder how much he’s really come to terms with his condition.
For example, in the famous T-shirt scene from Season Two when everyone wore a T-shirt with whatever thing they were most self-conscious about listed for everyone to see, Artie’s T-shirt said “Four-Eyes.”
Yes, Artie wears glasses. Big dorky ones, in fact. But it seemed odd that that’s what he’d be most concerned about. Especially because, today, getting contacts is a very easy, inexpensive thing to do. So if that’s really what bothers Artie the most about himself, he could change it. I always thought he wore the glasses on purpose as sort of a retro Buddy Holly tribute.
Previous story lines have shown that Artie wishes he could dance and dreams of being able to one day. That would have been a more honest thing to put on his shirt. And reading this book might move Artie toward that end.
Here’s the list of books I’ve recommended to Glee characters so far:
• Artie Abrams – Accidents of Nature by Harriet McBryde Johnson.
• Noah Puckerman - So Punk Rock (And Other Ways to Disappoint Your Mother) by Micol Ostow.
• Brittany Pierce – Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John.
• Mercedes Jones – Dramarama by E. Lockhart.
• Tina Cohen-Chang – My Not-So-Still Life by Liz Gallagher.
• Santana Lopez – Sister Mischief by Laura Goode.
• Blaine Anderson – Pitch Perfect by Mickey Rapkin.
• Finn Hudson – Struts & Frets by Jon Skovron.
• Sam Evans – Guitar Boy by MJ Auch.
• Quinn Fabray – Beauty Queens by Libba Bray.
• David Karofsky – Dairy Queen and The Off Season both by Catherine Gilbert Murdock.
• Rachel Berry – Theater Geek by Mickey Rapkin.
• Kurt Hummel – Boy Meets Boy by David Levithan.