If you’re looking for a romance that celebrates diversity this book is for you. It’s rare to find a book that manages to sensitively handle characters with disabilities, without coming to criticism for romanticising illness or impairment. The Gift by Nuri Mass manages to walk this delicate line and weaves a beautiful love story in the process.
Warning, if you don’t like to feel sad in books this one might not be for you. Not to say this book is one you’re going to sob right the way through, but rather I would say it is haunting at times, and has melancholic tone.
What’s it about?
Set at Sydney University, Australia in the 1930s The Gift tells the story of a blind boy, Leonard and a facially disfigured girl, Heather. Nuri Mass explores the confidences and insecurities of Heather and Leonard with grace and sensitivity whilst instilling in the reader a sense of compassion without pity. The love that blossoms between these two is rich, an example of a romance story that is a ‘slow burn’. We follow the journey of both characters through their university experience and how their physical limitations affects how they interact with one another and the world around them. They support one another through a number of challenges, and grow stronger as individuals through their friendship with one another.
It was a delight to read this story! Being set at a University allows for in-depth and interesting exploration of the characters. As they seek to make their own path, they explore the questions to life that are often sought in those crucial years at university.
Questions many of us ask: Where are we going in life? What’s the point of everything? Who are the people most important to us? and Who am I? Now, while the book doesn’t give all the answers to those questions it’s nice to read a story that allows its characters to grapple. To not have it all figured out, but to still seek answers.
What I liked most?
I really enjoyed seeing the friendship between these characters develop. Seeing the way they built one another up and provided coping mechanisms for dealing with life reminded me of the importance of community. For everyone, but especially those with disability or disfigurement.
In late 2018 I had the honour of attending the graduation of a teenager I know through leading at a youth program. She lives with special needs. Seeing the way her community of friends and school have banded together to support one another was really wonderful to witness. They all gave speeches at the graduation that touching. After all, we all want the same thing in life, which is ultimately to be loved and accepted. Sometimes we can lose sight of that. I was reminded of this book after attending that special event. I don’t think this book romanticises the impairments people deals with but rather celebrates their strength in overcoming them.
What I liked least?
This book could come under criticism for handling disfigurement in a simplistic manner. Some people may find that element of the story troublesome which is understandable. I personally try to view the specific story as a whole rather than picking on individual elements. I think Nuri Mass attempts to address the underlying confidence issues that can be connected with disfigurement – rather than the disfigurement itself. On the whole I think she does a good job of it.
I rate this book 4 stars out of five. I really enjoyed this one. I think my high rating has to do with the way it spoke to me when I first read it as a sixteen year old. The depth of characters, and what they were dealing with gave me perspective on my own problems with confidence and direction.
The book doesn’t get the 5th star I think due to what I spoke about above around simplicity and speaking for those with disability or disfigurement. I couldn’t find much out about the author herself. It’s such a tricky subject matter to handle though so credit to Nuri Mass for the way she treats her characters with dignity and complexity.
Where can I get a copy?
My grandmother gave me this book so I had to do some looking around online to source a copy. It seems that it is no longer in print now, but at the time of publishing this article you could pick up a second hand copy here.
I hope you enjoyed the review today! If you can get your hands on a copy of this book I highly recommend it.
In the mean time – what other books do you know that celebrate diversity? Comment below! I’d love to hear from you! If you don’t already, please feel free to follow my blog and subscribe for weekly updates.
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