As soon as I heard about this book, I was so keen to read it.
It’s a checklist of things I love in contemporary books, including witty writing and stellar banter, complex and layered characters who have hearts of gold as well as their own demons to fight, and incredible disability rep by a disabled author. It was also thoroughly unputdownable (pretend like this is a word) and I read it in one day. Just felt so good to be really invested in a great book. Perfect way to spend my Sunday. 💛
The story follows 15-year-old Harris as he starts at a new high school with a lowkey plan to reinvent himself and finally make some friends. I also loved that it was by a 15yo because we so rarely get that POV in YA these days. Harris was instantly loveable. I love his wit and quips, I love that he didn’t hate his disability while at the same time he was frustrated at what he couldn’t do. He has spinal muscular atrophy and needs help with pretty much everything so he required a full time aid at school (a little less awkward than having his mum along, aka executive assistant). The book is also about him meeting Miranda, a young and cool and beautiful aid, who is both amazing and…questionable. There’s a lot of their (working) relationship that is a bit iffy and more than a few yikes moments. While at the same time you have to love their camaraderie and the difference she made in Harris’s life.
I wish I could’ve told him that inclusivity was not making someone feel uncomfortable for the enrichment of others.
I know the tagline is that it’s a love story, but it’s also super focused on all types of relationships. Friendship, parent relationships, sibling relationships…I totally loved this?! It shows us the good and bad and awkward and wonderful of Harris’s family life (his mum truly is amazing) and the struggle of making friends (and keeping them) and his budding relationship with Nory…who he struggles to know if she is actually into him or not. Mixed signals galooore here. I loved the deep dive into all these relationships dynamics. Which brings me to ANOTHER thing (of many 😌 I know) that I loved…
The book really talks deeply about the multifaceted nature of humans. Harris is really obsessed with colour theories, what your favourite colour says about you, etc. He uses it to judge/define people he’s just met because he’s so used to the instant, snap-judgements of people who see him in a wheelchair. The book handled this theme so exellently, how it showed us all these different characters who really were never surface-level simple. Harris makes his own crappy decisions as well — and has a good bit of growth throughout the book. He’s a 15-year-old kid just trying to figure life out. And yup, this book does a great job of capturing the Pains Of Being Fifteen.
Also absolutely loved the poignant and crisp disability advocacy throughout the book. The pointing out how thoughtlessly abled people act about accessibility. The everyday fights to be treated as a full human. The joy but also pain that comes with a disabled life. This is also not a book about self-hate, it doesn’t feel like it’s for an abled audience — it just exists, free and loud. As an autistic person, I crave more good disability rep and seeing disabled authors actually get the space they deserve in publishing. More of this please. 🙌🏻
An explosively colourful story full of complex characters and amazing banter that read like a slice-of-life from a teen with muscular spinal dystrophy. Totally recommend!
Thanks to Walker Books AUS for the review copy!
Title: The First Thing About You
Author: Chaz Hayden
Date Published: 7th of September, 2022
Genre: YA Contemporary
Publisher: Walker Books
Purchase: Book Depository, Dymocks
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A high school student with spinal muscular atrophy is determined to reinvent himself.
When fifteen-year-old Harris moves with his family from California (home of beautiful-but-inaccessible beaches) to New Jersey (home of some much-hyped pizza and bagels), he’s determined to be known as more than just the kid in the powered wheelchair. Armed with his favorite getting-to-know-you question (“What’s your favorite color?”), he’ll weed out the incompatible people—the greens and the purples, people who are too close to his own blue to make for good friends—and surround himself with outgoing yellows, adventurous oranges, and even thrilling reds. But first things first: he needs to find a new nurse, stat, so that his mom doesn’t have to keep accompanying him to school.
Enter Miranda, a young nursing student who graduated from Harris’s new high school. Beautiful, confident, and the perfect blend of orange and red, Miranda sees Harris for who he really is—funny, smart, and totally worthy of the affections of Nory Fischer, the cute girl who’s in most of his classes. With Miranda at his side, Harris soon befriends geeky Zander (yellow) and even makes headway with Nory (who stubbornly refuses to reveal her favorite color). But Miranda is fighting her own demons, and Harris starts to wonder if she truly has his best interests at heart.