Book Author: Jaqueline Wilson
Book Series: N/A
Genre: Realism, Childrens’ Lit, Disabled Lit,
First Published: August 2015
understand and accept that there is nothing wrong with having a disability.
Jacqueline Wilson is a brilliant children’s writer and like many successful writers, she has a range of stunning to less successful books. My least favourite book of Wilson’s is a Midnight. But, Katy had me from the get-go.
Unlike most of her other work, Katy is not an original story. It is a story heavily inspired and based on a novel by Susan Coolidge, What Katy Did. If you read both books, you are able to tell the difference in the attitudes toward disability 150 years ago compared to now.
The difference between the two books is how the protagonist adapts and accepts life as a disabled individual. In What Katy Did, the protagonist hoped that being good and well behaved will eventually cure her of her disability. In the 1800s, being good and well behaved as a woman meant that you became a housewife and if you were young but had younger siblings without a mother, you were expected to become their mother figure.
In Wilson’s book, Katy, it is not like that. She is disabled but she is not given hope that she will be cured. She is told that she will not be cured and she has to make the most of things. This develops a strong and determined character.
Being disabled myself, this is a major importance to me. I’ve read books in the same era as Coolidge with disabled characters, and just like hers, they miraculously recover after doing a good deed or two. You can look at Heidi or The Secret Garden and find the same situation. Wilson is more realistic. She wants her audience to understand that the world does not work this way, you’re not disabled because you’ve done something bad, and you can not be healed by doing good.
I was practically crippled and they expected me to be pathetic and saintly like the little invalids in victorian books. – (Wilson, 2015, p. 177).
Katy Carr is a lively, daredevil oldest sister in a big family. She loves messing around outdoors, climbing on the garage roof, or up a tree, cycling, skateboarding, swinging…. But her life changes in dramatic and unexpected ways after a serious accident.
The Plot of Katy is very similar to What Katy Did. Katy is forbidden from meeting up with her crush at the skateboard park (because her skateboard was confiscated for another misdeed previously). However, she attempts to go by herself and gets lost. This causes her to be grounded and left home alone, which ultimately leads to her accident. She falls off a home-made swing.
This leaves her badly hurt and she is left with a permanent injury that prevents her from walking again. The Plot is about how well Katy can adapt to her new condition, how it causes her friends to treat her differently and how she copes making new friends.
With her new friends, Helen and Dexter and the support of her family, Katy starts her journey as a disabled individual. She also learns that not all friends will change their attitude towards her. There’s even a little cute pre-teen romance.
The plot is relatively simple and easy to follow, helped by the first person narrative; particularly if you are a young reader. I think the plot encourages young children to think about disability and to make them aware that just because someone is disabled does not mean they should be excluded.
This is clear in the many P.E scenes in the book where the P.E teacher purposely encourages Katy to join in with the other students by inventing a game that can be played by both wheelchair users and able-bodied students. My favourite collection of scenes.
I found the way Wilson tackled the development of Katy as a disabled individual – one learning to adapt and accept herself – interesting and well done. Most of the character development is based on Katy, but the things Katy does and says develop the other characters too.
Katy goes through many emotions. As a pre-teen girl who has recently been involved in a life-changing situation, this is to be expected and helps to make the character of Katy believable.
She is upset that she has a stepmother when she is still grieving for her mother. She is angry that she is disabled and now has to live a life in a chair, upset that her best friend treats her differently, worried about school and scared that her crush will now avoid her. All this emotion makes her blind to the sacrifice and feelings of her stepmother.
Katy hates herself, forever wishing to be normal again. She struggles to accept that she won’t be able to walk again and therefore is mostly in a bad mood when socialising with family members or her school friends.
Originally reluctant to go back to mainstream schooling but not wanting to go to a special school, Katy has to pluck up the courage to go back. When she finally does, she finds support in her P.E teacher and learns that she is able to still take part in sport. This is what helps her on her journey to self-acceptance.
It is at her school where Katy starts to change. She starts to learn more about herself, her disability and that the things she is able to do, others struggle with. Another favourite scene of mine is when the PE teacher asks Katy if he can use her chair and gets a student who was bullying Katy to sit in it and try to take part in the sport. The student realises she can’t and gets out of the chair, embarrassed. The class is kinder to Katy then, though I wonder if only because they’re afraid they’d suffer the same humiliation.
That was it. I always had to accept a dare, no matter what… Ryan was a flambuoyent dancer (Wilson, 2015, p 454).
Izzie gives up her job to look after Katy and tries to encourage her to enjoy something again by trying to find things she can do (like making purses). Izzie feels guilty about Katy’s accident as she blames herself for leaving Katy home alone, these feelings empathised when Katy snaps at her, blaming her for the accident too.
Looking after Katy 24/7 proves to be stressful for Izzie, especially as Katy refuses to cooperate. She contacts a family friend, Helen—who is also disabled—and asks her to speak to Katy. Immediately, there is a contrast between Katy and Helen, which adds to the narrative and to the characters.
Helen has had her disability from birth and so has had more time to become used to the idea of being disabled and what this means than Katy has. Unlike Katy, who looks at all the stuff she is unable to do, Helen looks at all the things she is able to do.
When she stays with the Carr’s, Katy realises that Helen is still independent despite her disability and has tricks that help make her life easier.
However, after spending time with Helen, Katy realises that while Helen does occasionally need help, she is able to do things and still be independent by inventing tricks and techniques that make the task easier and this intrigues Katy.
It is Helen who gives Katy the courage to go back to school and who pushes her onto the path of self-acceptance.
This book is great as it represents an individual with a disability as someone who is more than their disability. The character has to come to terms with who she is and while she does this, she realises who are her true friends. The whole experience makes it so that she is wiser than she was before her accident, more appreciative but also, in many ways, the same. She learns that she can still be active, still have a cheeky personality and still be included in sports.
The characters are great, all of them unique and varied in their own way and each of them grows as Katy adapts and grows herself. It is a beautiful story that is well-written and holds a positive but realistic message for children who are discovering differences and disabilities. I would recommend it to any parent who wants their child to understand and become aware of different conditions.
Thanks for reading. Have you read the book or one that treats disabled characters in the same way? let me know in comments.
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