Our society tends to have an image that has been reinforced through romance books and films, that only a certain type of person deserves a happy ending with their romantic partner. These stories have been around since we were kids: tales of love that imply conventionally attractive, heterosexual couples with no sign of disability are meant to walk into the sunset of their even-brighter, perfect tomorrows. But that’s quite frankly dangerous. When we only highlight love stories of this kind, it leaves no room for people who don’t fit this description to dream about finding a fulfilling romance.
I’ve witnessed it firsthand with my nana and tata’s relationship. One day, I was sharing their beautiful love story with someone I had recently met, and they became surprised when I mentioned that my mother had been born after, not before, my tata had returned from the Vietnam War as a triple-amputee. Because disabled people aren’t usually shown or considered to be able to live life like others. Marrying, having kids and sharing romantic, intimate moments with their partners are supposed to be unattainable goals. When, in reality, they're definitely not.
As someone who grew up with a rare genetic connective tissue disorder called Beals Syndrome passed down from my nana to my mom and finally to me, I know I’d love to see more representation in media that shows disabled people in love and navigating the ups and downs of relationships like everyone else. I’d like to see portrayals of relationships that are messy and toxic and relationships that are healing and downright sensual. Because that’s the type of all-encompassing romantic experience that people with disabilities deserve to explore.
Here are 10 romance novels that provide excellent depictions of love and feature a main character with a disability.
Get a Life, Chloe Brown
Until now, Chloe Brown has lived relatively safely and by the book. Usually, Chloe, a self-proclaimed geek, prefers to spend her free time on the computer, especially since she suffers from fibromyalgia, which affects her everyday routines. But one day, after a near-fatal incident, Chloe decides she’s going to “get a life!” So she comes up with a list of things she wants to accomplish, a few of which include enjoying a drunken night out, having a one-night-stand and doing something bad.
But this goody-two-shoes has no idea where to start; thankfully, Redford “Red” Morgan seems to be the perfect type of tattooed, motorcyclist eye candy that can act as her guide. What the two wouldn’t have anticipated was that their agreement could lead to a far deeper connection. Pick this romance up if you enjoy reading about passionate encounters and great representation of a person living with chronic pain.
Heart of Stone
If you love a great slow-burn romance with some of the best pining you’ll ever read, then pick up Heart of Stone. Set in 1764, it follows Henry Coffey, a vampire with ADHD who employs a personal secretary with autism named Theophilus Essex. Despite their differing personalities—Henry is lively and talkative, while Theophilus is reserved and calm—the two find themselves inescapably drawn to each other. Johannes T. Evans balances intense yearning with a keen awareness of the importance of consent and the power dynamics at play to bring us a tale filled with lingering looks and flirty banter that will have you savoring every sentence.
Always Only You
Author Chloe Liese often features characters in her books who are neurodivergent like herself, since she fervently believes that everyone deserves a love story. In Always Only You, Chloe Liese doesn’t disappoint by bringing us a heartwarming story centered around Frankie Zeferino, a social media manager who lives with rheumatoid arthritis and is autistic, and Ren Bergman a professional hockey player who’s tried to keep his massive crush on Frankie at bay for years in fear of crossing a line due to their professional ties at work.
But when Ren finds out that Frankie plans on making a career change, he realizes that this may be the opportunity he’s been hoping for to get close to the fiercely independent woman he has admired from afar for too long. This romance will have you blushing, giggling and falling for dreamy Ren alongside Frankie!
Flirting with Fame
This riveting coming-of-age story about learning to be comfortable in your own skin follows 19-year-old Elise Jameson, a shy, self-conscious young writer who has unintentionally become the bestselling author of the Viking Moon series in her attempt to cope with her crippling anxiety. As a child, Elise had an accident that left her deaf and physically scarred causing her to feel more comfortable behind the screen of a laptop than interacting with people her own age.
She never thought her writing career would lead to so much success, and she especially never anticipated being invited to the set of the television pilot based on her book. Rather than feeling immense excitement, Elise is overwhelmed with dread—the back of her novel has an image of some beautiful, random girl she had sent to her editor in a panic rather than her own. Elise thought she would need to convince the girl on the back cover, Veronica Wilde, to be her stand-in, but Veronica is all too happy to help since she’s been profiting off of the lie for years.
Everything appears to be working out; a foolproof plan is in place; Elsie will act as Veronica’s assistant, and no one will ever know her true identity. That is, until she starts developing feelings for Gavin, the show’s star. Will Elise be able to work through her insecurities to allow for a genuine connection to form?
Sick Kids in Love
Sometimes you meet people in life who just get you. They relate to the experiences you’ve had and they’ve felt the emotions you’ve dealt with. This is the case for Isabel and Sasha. They meet in a hospital where the two often frequent and are instantly drawn to each other. Isabel is being treated for rheumatoid arthritis, while Sasha has Gaucher disease, a disorder that results in extreme fatigue, weakened bones and anemia.
Sasha becomes a person Isabel draws strength from; he is someone to laugh with who understands how she feels about being constantly treated like a “sick kid.” Nevertheless, she’s always sworn off dating. It’s safer and far less stressful. Now Isabel must decide if she’s ready to tear down her walls and break a rule she’s defiantly kept for ages.
The Art of Feeling
The Art of Feeling tells the story of a girl who is in constant pain and a boy who never feels physical discomfort. Ever since Samantha Herring was in a car accident in which she lost her mother, she has had horrible pain in her injured leg as well as PTSD from her mother’s death. Eliot has never experienced pain, at least not the kind the physical body can perceive due to his rare disease called congenital insensitivity to pain with anhidrosis. He has consequently allowed others to treat him like a punching bag to vent their own frustrations. They meet when they both need each other the most, and author Laura Tims allows readers to witness how a charming friendship can grow into something much more.
When My Heart Joins the Thousand
Seventeen-year-old Alvie Fitz, diagnosed with Asperger’s, has always felt she has had to prove to people that she is capable. Although she may have sensory-sensitivity issues and may not always be able to catch social cues, she’s rightly fed up with the notion that she needs to be “fixed.” She hopes to be legally emancipated soon, but in the meantime, she spends time with Chance, her one-winged hawk friend, during her job at the zoo.
Then one day she meets Stanley, a boy with the genetic disorder osteogenesis imperfecta, which results in fragile bones that land him in the hospital frequently with new injuries. They quickly realize that their strong bond is continuously growing as they open up about their past trauma and present hardship in an ableist world.
Author A.J. Steiger has written a novel that explores sexuality in the disabled community, the broad range of the autism spectrum and asserts that it should never be neurodivergent or physically disabled individuals who should be forced to fit the strict mold for society’s standards, but instead, society’s responsibility to be welcoming and educated of others’ differences so that they may not remain recklessly ignorant.
All Our Broken Pieces
In All Our Broken Pieces, L.D. Crichton emphasizes the pain that can come with scars that can be seen and those that are invisible, through two teenage protagonists. Lennon Davis suffers from obsessive compulsive disorder, which has led to her constant reliance on her security—the number five. To cope with attending a new school, the death of her mother and her new family dynamic, she always does parts of her routine five times, whether that be turning a doorknob or flicking a light switch. This calms her and makes her feel more in control.
Her next-door neighbor, Kyler Benton, starts to notice her patterns from his treehouse, a place he goes to find peace, solitude and where he can write song lyrics away from judgmental stares that gawk at his facial scars. The two may find out that, despite their dissimilarities, they may be destined to be in each other’s lives.
Stunt Woman Kristine “Crash” Patterson is used to falling off of high, scary heights for her job, but she is not prepared to fall for 25-year-old Jill Corrigan. Jill has sworn off romance ever since she was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis as she learns to navigate her new reality with the challenges it presents. Instead, she has thrown herself into her work as an actress. But on the set of a disaster movie the two women meet and instantly feel sparks. Can Jill allow Crash to see her vulnerabilities, or will their connection remain solely physical?
When You See Yourself
Senior year of high school is usually an extremely stressful time for young adults. Amid juggling classes, having a healthy social life, applying to colleges and deciding ultimately what you want the rest of your adult life to look like moving forward, there’s no wonder why some students feel highly overwhelmed. Effie Galanos has had the extra stress of having to consider how accessible her dream university will be since she is a wheelchair user with cerebral palsy. She has had to face constant challenges with accessibility at her high school, so she knows that her dream to go to college in New York to major in Mass Media & Society in hopes of eventually landing a career in digital media will be far from easy. But it's what her heart is set on, and she will do everything in her power to reach her goals.
When she realizes that her longtime high school crush, Wilder, is applying to the same school, she decides that dating him may just have to be added to her list of goals. Author Claire Forrest, who drew inspiration for this novel from her own experience living with cerebral palsy, brings readers a heartwarming love story, not only between two young adults, but one of self-love that spotlights a young woman’s determination to dream without bounds.
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