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I was a voracious reader as a teenager. I read a lot of different books and different genres but my heart (all puns intended) wanted romances. I remember reading books about teens with cancer and I couldn’t get through them fast enough. They were also mostly romances. So for me it was a win-win.

Except sometimes it wasn’t.

The author got a lot of things wrong. Things that someone who had lived it would know. Things like how chemo happened or what the beginning of treatment was actually like. I’d remind myself it was just a book and go on. But, it would always drive me a little nuts. And it gave my friends who read those books bad information. I never really felt like I saw myself in those books. And the bad rep was one of the reasons.

Over the last six months I’ve been doing Sensitivity Reads.

This is the best description I’ve found of what exactly a Sensitivity Reader does. I took it off of the Writing In The Margins website.

A sensitivity reader reads through a manuscript for issues of representation and for instances of bias on the page.  The goal of a sensitivity reader isn’t to edit a manuscript clarity and logic, although that may be an additional service offered. A sensitivity reader reviews a manuscript for internalized bias and negatively charged language.  A sensitivity reader is there to help make sure you do not make a mistake, but they are also NOT a guarantee against making a mistake.

This means I read a finished draft, usually already contracted by a publisher, and make sure the representation of a person with an amputation is done realistically. So, what does this look like?

An author sends me their book. I read it. I send them notes on where they have gotten something wrong about their character who is an amputee (or cancer survivor). I give suggested changes on how to make things work.

Why is this important?

I know I’ve talked before about the lack of representation of people, especially teenagers, with disability and chronic illness in books. It’s one of the reasons that I have chosen to write about those things. But sometimes you read a book and you’re really excited because maybe a character has one leg. Or has cancer. Or something that you can relate to. And then you read it and realize that it is NOTHING like your experience. That the author didn’t do any homework and that they got it all wrong.

It happens.

And it hurts.

There are a lot of people living daily with a disability or a chronic illness and we deserve to see ourselves represented correctly in fiction. I didn’t know it at the time, but I was looking for any book I could see myself in. Any book with a girl on crutches who got to fall in love and star in the high school play. And I never found it. I never found a single book (while I was growing up) where the protagonist lost her leg. Forget the falling in love or staring the high school show.

I write about teens with disability and chronic illness. Two of my main characters have been leg amputees. I still had OTHER amputees read them. We don’t all have the same experiences and feelings. And I don’t want a teenager to read my book and have to say, “She didn’t get any of this right.”

Because we all want to protect our readers.

We want to offer them mirrors and windows.

To find out more about Sensitivity Readers go to


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