To quote The Lightning Thief: The Percy Jackson Musical, one of my favorite productions of all time: “The things that make you different are the very things that make you strong.”
Anyone can be a hero in literature, and that is what makes books so welcoming. No main character is truly a cookie cutter because what sets them apart from the rest of their world is often what gives them the ability to save it. Percy Jackson and the Olympians was the first series to portray how children with dyslexia and ADHD have a hidden power that allows them to read ancient Greek and stay alive in battle. Rick Riordan’s books set an enormous example for other authors, and since then, the amount of popular books featuring characters with disabilities has continued to grow. One of the more recent releases is the Skyhunter duology by Marie Lu, which exemplifies what it is to provide representation for a host of different communities.
The main character, Talin, has trained for many years to be a fearsome striker, which she has achieved beyond anyone’s expectations. When a dramatic twist of events leaves her partnered with a prisoner named Red, they embark on a journey of learning to trust one another as they fight back against injustice and fast-approaching enemies. Talin can be characterized as determined, powerful, intelligent, and a strong leader. She is also mute and communicates through sign language.
Her difference makes her strong because the role of a striker requires complete silence and quiet communication with the others on her team. Throughout the books, she uses sign language (which is accurately depicted!) to speak with her friends and family and later is able to speak through linked minds and shared thoughts. One might think it would be difficult to accomplish such a thing in a written form, but Lu was not intimidated and pulled it off seamlessly. As a reader that doesn’t know sign language and does have the use of my voice, I was immersed deeply in dialogue without being jostled that half of the words weren’t explicitly spoken.
The loss of Talin’s voice wasn’t for the purposes of aesthetics, but a raw representation of the society, the ongoing war, and the culture of prejudice. She wasn’t mute as a plot point or for a shocking twist, but because that was true to her life and her story.
Consequently, the mission of the books is not to fix her vocal cords or change who she is as a person but on how she has adapted and become fierce in her own right. This fact has created a warm reception from many of Marie Lu’s disabled readers and is another powerful example of what it looks like to make a protagonist unique, valued, and impressive while representing a community that may never before have been painted as a hero.