On Ableist Language in Books

Words like “insane”, “psychopath”, “nuts”, “idiot”, and “psycho” are frequently thrown around both in real life and fiction. Their ableism is usually ignored by the characters participating in the dialogue, giving the reader the impression that, hey, referring to or calling someone an ableist slur is a-okay!

(Spoiler alert: It’s not.)

Now, we’re all guilty of ableist slurs, even mentally ill, non-abled people such as myself too. It’s a part of everyday vocabulary for most people that people don’t see anything wrong with it. So while most people don’t see anything wrong with casually calling someone a “psychopath” (looking at you, popular allocishet white Twitter feminists), it’s extremely inappropriate to do so. Which is why I was finally glad to find a book (NOT NOW, NOT EVER) that finally incorporates a character calling another character out on her ableist language.

This book isn’t out til November so I’ll try to keep the spoilers to a minimum here, but the jist of the situation is: Ever Lawrence is talking to her socially awkward new friend, Leigh. After Leigh pulls a crazy stunt in front of the whole crowd, Ever calls her “an insane person.” Leigh casually calls her out on her ableism with “Don’t be ableist. I already told you, Ever. I’m awkward.” Without the call-out becoming a lengthy preachy moment and taking over the book, Leigh calls out Ever’s ableism succinctly and gets the point across.

I wasn’t expecting something like this, but I’m relieved to finally see it in a YA book. So often, ableism and related microaggressions perpetuated in these stories aren’t called out. I’m not saying a character has to be this shiny, flawless social justice warrior, but there’s a difference between writing imperfect characters and supporting the various -isms our society suffers under. So far in my reading of this ARC? It does the former.

So from one mentally ill reader with a degenerative spine, thank you, Lily Anderson. I hope more writers follow your example.



3 thoughts on “On Ableist Language in Books”

  1. I am a wheelchair user and our son has special needs. Whenever we meet new people and they find out that he has autism, more times than I can count, they say something along the lines of “well at least he isn’t retarded “. This enrages me because he has friends who do have intellectual disabilities in his classroom who are wonderful children. How can they not see how horrible it is to say that? Usually they get mad at me because they “meant it as a compliment”. This kind of ableist language needs to stop and dividing us up into disability categories only makes us weaker. We just need to band together and support each other.


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