GS vs. STA: Characters With Chronic Conditions

I have an anonymous request for a “Good Shit vs. Shit to Avoid” list:

Like many of us, I cope with things by reading about them, and I love finding a book about someone who has problems similar to mine and is able to thrive. I was recently diagnosed with a chronic condition that will almost certainly affect the rest of my life. It’s not fatal, and it’s not degenerative, but it is likely to lead to some level of physical disability in the future.

I am thus wondering about books with heroines who are physically disabled. I know there are books with deaf/Deaf heroines (I thoroughly enjoyed Tessa Dare’s Three Nights with a Scoundrel), but I’m primarily interested in reading about women with physical limitations—damaged legs, missing arms, confined to a wheelchair, suffering from multiple sclerosis, etc. One-eyed race car drivers need not apply.

There are heroes with war wounds, but I’ve encountered very few heroines with similar disabilities. My taste is kind of narrow—I love Julia Quinn, Tessa Dare, Loretta Chase, and most Lisa Kleypas for historicals (I have read Seduce Me at Sunrise, btw, and I’m just thinking I’ll go back and reread Win’s story…). I love Victoria Dahl (historicals and contemp), Jenny Crusie, and Nora Roberts. I much prefer fluff to angst, and I’m not really all that into paranormal romance, though I’m always willing to give things a shot.

I thought maybe the Bitchery could help me out here.

My first thought is Whisper Falls by Toni Blake, which features a heroine with Crohn’s Disease, among the Most Unsexy Chronic Ailments Ever, who doesn’t get better magically by the end of the book.

But I don’t recall any heroines with chronic, potentially debilitating problems like MS or fibromyalgia, for example. Do you know of any?

Comments are Closed

  1. Ana says:

    I read one historical, set in the Wild Wild West where the heroine has a limp because of a damaged leg when she was a child, and the hero is a brothel owner… but that’s about all I remember… not much help I realise 🙁

  2. Jenna says:

    Dancing in the Moonlight by Raeanne Thayne features a heroine who lost a leg while deployed in Afghanistan. It was one of the free Harlequin ebooks a couple of summers ago (and is still free, as far as I can tell). I really enjoyed it—the main character is both a veteran (nice contemporary twist—usually it’s the hero) and a nurse practitioner (nursing represent!). While I have all my limbs and might not have picked up on some misses, I thought Thayne dealt very well and sensitively with the issues of her prosthesis, mobility, sexuality, etc. I’d recommend it to any romance fan, not just those looking for a heroine with a disability. Really interesting heroine, plus, FREE.

  3. mayab says:

    Catherine Anderson is the first author to come to mind.  She has quite a few books with heroines living with disabilities. If I remember correctly (it’s been a few years), I read three – one was paralyzed, one was blind and one suffered from brain damage.

  4. Amber says:

    I thought of Again the Magic from Lisa Kleypas. Hers is an injury, not a disease, but it has lasting effects (both visual and mobility-wise).

    Dancing in the Moonlight by RaeAnne Thayne is about a woman who has her leg amputated. It was okay as a book, but I thought it took her situation seriously and showed well her frustrations and fears in regards to her future.

  5. Carolyn says:

    An Accidental Woman by Barbara Delinsky. The heroine, Poppy Blake, is in a wheelchair. It’s the second book in her Lake Henry series. The first is Lake News about her sister Lily.

  6. nicole says:

    fool for love by eloisa James has a heroine with some kind of physical disability.  I think it has to do with her hip.  Its an historical, so she’s kept from doing things that other women get to do like have a season.  I liked it a lot.

  7. Laurie Boris says:

    I’m a writer with fibromyalgia, and I’ve wanted to write a book with a female protagonist with FM, but haven’t found the right story for her. Soon, I hope. I am self-pubbing a serial novel about an artist (male) with cystic fibrosis, and the women in his life. But you’re right, it’s such rich material.

  8. Kristen A. says:

    The heroine of Delilah Marvelle’s The Perfect Scandal had a leg amputated and has learned to cope rather well without it.

    Verification word: given69. Heh heh.

  9. I don’t have any suggestions, I just wanted to pop in and say I never fair to be astonished and impressed by the collective brain power (and memory!) of The Bitchery!

  10. brooke says:

    Both Hazard (Jo Beverly) and Silk and Shadows (Mary Jo Putney) have heroines with damaged legs/who limp.

  11. Sarah says:

    I give a third thumbs up to both Again the Magic and Dancing in the Moonlight – plus the latter is a Kindle freebie!  A great historical with the same theme is Susan Wiggs’ Halfway to Heaven. It’s set in the 1870s and features a senator’s daughter who’s had to cope with a leg injury from birth – my favorite Wiggs, and similar to Quinn in style.  I know there are others…I’m going to go scour my shelves to find them.

    Also, Jane from Dear Author recommended Mouth to Mouth by Erin McCarthy (deaf heroine) a few weeks back on Twitter and it was great.

  12. kathybaug says:

    Out of the Blue, by Sally Mandel, has a heroine who is suffering from MS.

  13. miz_geek says:

    The heroine of Mary Margaret Daughtridge’s SEALed with a Kiss has celiac disease.

  14. Betsy says:

    There was a Silhouette Special Edition that had a heroine who had been in a bad car accident, and had broken her back.  The author dealt with it carefully and intelligently—until the end (good sex turned into a magic cure).  It was a keeper for a long time, but I sold it off the last time I went through my shelves.

  15. Nadia says:

    The first book that popped into my head was, surprisingly, from Danielle Steel, an author I stopped reading well over 20 years ago.  But way back in my impressionable teenage years, there was a little book called “Palomino” which was as full of heartbreaking angst as one adolescent girl could hope for.  Add in a movie with Lee Horsely (shut up, he was hot back in the day!) and sigh, sigh, sigh.  I could not tell you if it stands up to the test of time, though.  Could be chock full o’ suck when read as an adult.

  16. Vicki says:

    I totally second Dancing in the Moonlight. It was medically fairly right on, it showed her dealing with a sudden disability (and not necessarily well, initially), and the story was engaging. It was the first one I thought of when I saw this post. I’ll have to see if I can think of others.

  17. Melissandre says:

    Candle in the Window by Christina Dodd features a blind heroine.  She’s brought to the castle of a knight/lord who was recently blinded in battle, and she impresses everyone with the way she overcomes her limitation.  I don’t remember there being much angst, at least from her end.

  18. CarrieS says:

    Toni Blake did one about a heroine with Chron’s disease that Sarah reviewed, it was called “Whisper Falls”.  I don’t have Chron’s (nor, apparently, can I spell it) so I don’t know how accurate it was.  for a disease that involved gastrointestinal problems, I thought it was kind of tidy.  But it did deal alot with the pschyology of having a sudden onset of a chronic disease.  Anyway, Sarah’s review was chock full o’detail.

    I’ve had spinal surgery twice and the idea of magic sex being the cure for back problems makes me SOOOO SKEEVED OUT!

  19. KellL says:

    Thank you for the suggestion for Whisper Falls.  I have Crohn’s and the only fiction I have found to date that has a heroine with this disease was The Good Fairies of New York.  It was a bit of a disappointment (all of the fairies fixing her in the end?!) and left me feeling worse than before I read it.

  20. Aimee says:

    Bright Hopes by Pat Warren from the Welcome to Tyler series features a heroine with MS.

  21. Storyphile says:

    A contemporary I read and really liked as a teenager in the ‘80’s was a Harlequin Superromance called Night into Day by Sandra Canfield.  I haven’t read it recently (had to look up author & title!), so not sure what I would think now, but I remember it for being refreshingly different than what I normally read back then. The woman had arthritis, had already had some surgery and was slated for more, but seemed capable and determined and was running an organization that assisted children with disabilities.  The man was a football star who had a long successful career, who was able to empathize with the heroine because he understood injuries and recoveries.  The main h/h were white, but there was also a nice subplot with a romance between their black best friends, so I also remembered it for having a bit of racial diversity.  Once you added in the kids with disabilities, you had a lot more minority representation than I normally found in the ‘‘80’s, so between that and the fact that the heroine wasn’t physically perfect, I found this book much more interesting than most.  Which is why I still remember it 20 yrs later.  Now I want to read it again to see if it stood the test of time!

  22. Lakshmi says:

    Candice Hern’s contribution to the anthology It Happened One Season is about a heroine who was born with a deformed hip and has a severe limp (and limited prospects) because of it. It was the only story I remember from that book, for what its worth.

  23. MD says:

    A heroine of Donna Simposon’s Lord St Claire’s Angel has arthritis resulting in deformed hands. I think most of Donna Simpson’s books are very good, so I’d recommend this one, but with one caveat: I haven’t re-read it since I got a chronic illness myself. And I found that my views on many of my old favorites featuring disabled heroes and heroines changed drastically after that.

    Once I had to deal with a chronic problem myself, I found that the reality differs pretty drastically from the novels, and I often don’t care for this. People with disabilities and chronic illnesses can lead very fulfilling lives. Well, I lead one myself. But none of the books I read are realistic about what it often entails: fatigue and loss of energy; the need to plan very carefully in advance, and inability to make or change plans on impulse; unexpected flare-ups that can break a date. But I imagine it is very unromantic. Instead too often there are those heroes and heroines who may grit their teeth in pain, but can still do anything a healthy person does, and not suffer genuine long-term consequences of pushing themselves too far (as in, getting a flare-up that will ground you for a month, rather than just a bad evening you can sleep off). You can google “the spoon theory” for a story which describes how it really is, and what it means to have such limits imposed on your life.

    That said, books about people who have a disability like an amputated leg, but not an illness to go with it, may be more realistic (says someone who never had to deal with this stuff). It’s definitely not easy to live with something like that, so I would not minimize it. But I had a friend with a congenitally shorter leg, who needed a crutch to walk. Her life was not easy, but in some ways her adjustment was simpler: it was a matter of figuring out adaptive aids and workarounds to do various things, but never a matter of not having the strength or the energy to get things done.

  24. Ridley says:

    Hello! As the self-appointed Spokesperson for Disability in Romance, I have some guidance for you.

    Unfortunately, it’s more STA than GS, since romance *loves* to appropriate disability to tell a sad tale of woe.

    So, first up – Avoid Catherine Anderson like the plague. Her heroines are weak and childlike and their disabilities exist to make the heroes appear more heroic. They’re pure, ableist fantasy and not for anyone who wants to read about self-actualized women.

    I have the same complaint for The Marriage Miracle by Liz Fielding as well. I’m just not into the whole moping cripple scene. Nor do I get into the “charitable” hero thing. The vibe in these books that the hero is doing the heroine a favor makes me a little HULK SMASH ya know?

    I liked Out Of The Blue by Sally Mandel more than I’ve liked most disabled heroine novels. The heroine is living with MS, working as a teacher, and generally getting on with her life. About 2/3 of the way in, though, we get the “I must push him away because I will just be a burden” line of BS that I find offensive, but the heroine is the one to snap out of the mope and grovel to the hero and beg him to take her back, so it redeems itself somewhat.

    I really enjoyed how LaVyrle Spence portrayed the limping heroine (due to a hip injury) in The Gamble. She accepted her spinsterhood gracefully, yet was full of passion for her business and the temperance movement. The incredibly facile treatment of the legacy of slavery in the post-Civil War south at the end of the book stopped me cold, though.

    Sweet Annie by Cheryl St. John was a pretty great book about a physically disabled heroine demanding her family see and treat her as the grown woman she is…until she pushes the hero away near the end because she doesn’t want to burden him. F that tired conflict, thank you.

    Lots of people love Dancing With Clara, by Mary Balogh, but I didn’t. 1. The hero cheats clear through the entire book, and the story ends with Clara basically telling him she accepts that part of him. 2. She stands up at the end, playing into the whole “disability = HEA not possible” concept that I find insulting. Her efforts towards getting out of her chair made her heroic. I didn’t like what that seemed to say about people who can’t/won’t get out of a wheelchair.

    And I know you’re looking for visible physical disabilities, but I do have to suggest Samantha’s Cowboy by Marin Thomas. I loved the brain injured heroine in the book. She’s aware of her handicaps, but compensates for them rather than wrings her hands in angst. She’s got a great personality and is determined to stop everyone from treating her with kid gloves.

    I haven’t read this one yet, but The Fearless Maverick by Robyn Grady features a pro surfer heroine who lost a leg in a shark attack. I have high hopes for it.

    Wish I had more recommendations than I do warnings, but romance does terrible things with disability themes as a rule. I wouldn’t suggest reading romance as a way of coming to terms with your future limitations. The common messaging is that disabled women are burdens and the best they can hope for is that a man will come by who’ll condescend to take care of them. I’d long since made my peace with my new reality before reading these novels. Had I not, I’d probably have drunk through this liver by now.

    Good luck finding good books to read!

  25. hollygee says:

    The Pajama Girls of Lambert Square by Rosina Lippi has a heroine with agoraphobia. Mental disability rather than physical, but debilitating nether the less.

  26. aphasia says:

    Ridley, thank you!! As a disabled (chronically ill) romance reader I really appreciate this, and your excellent analysis! Do you have a blog or anything? I would totally read it.

  27. MD says:

    So, first up – Avoid Catherine Anderson like the plague. Her heroines are weak and childlike and their disabilities exist to make the heroes appear more heroic. They’re pure, ableist fantasy and not for anyone who wants to read about self-actualized women.

    I second that. I didn’t like them much even when I was fully able-bodied, precisely because of completely child-like heroines, and my opinion only got worse when I had to deal with my own stuff.

    I mean, in one of her contemps she has a heroine in her 20ies who discovers what an orgasm is with the hero. I mean, it’s not just that she never experienced an orgasm, it’s that she doesn’t know it is even possible, and the hero is doing this new and wonderful things to her body she never even suspected before. Please, give me a break.

  28. Emily says:

    I had something all typed up but then it disappeared. Hate when that happens!

    Anyway I was trying to post about something I have a hard time talking about; my non-obvious disabilities. I find characters with nonobvious disabilities relatable regardless of gender. The best example is The Duke and I by Julia Quinn. I found Simon very relatable because of his disablility. I did not find Daphne relatable although she reminded me of people I know, (also she tended to be insensitive and unkind).

    My point was I tend to find the character with a disablilty more relatable versus a character who is female like me. Do other people feel the same way? Are there certain things that override gender for you? Do you think physical problems are more gender related since there are higher standards for female beauty?

    Still its great that there are books that show heroines dealing with disabilities, although it would be much better if the disability was handled well.
    Finally my cousin has fibromyalgia. She was diagnosed over a decade ago, but she was able to finish college (she was in college at the time), get a job and find wonderful man to marry. I would love to see a heroine with fibromyalgia but there needs to be more to the plot then that.

  29. Killian says:

    Ana- I believe you are referring to The Gamble by LaVyrle Spencer? Definitely one of my favorites of hers. The Heroines injury was from an accident she had as a child that has left her with a limp. The story also follows the temperance movement which she becomes heavily involved in. Unfortunate, since her Hero is her next door neighbor, the saloon owner. A very powerful story, and she isn’t magically healed at the end though the Hero does help her find some relief from the pain by teaching her to swim.

  30. Ridley says:


    The closest thing I have to a blog is a tumblr where I post terrible examples of sex writing.

    I’m too scatterbrained to run my own blog. It’d get updated every day for a week, then summarily ignored for a month and a half. I post reviews on Goodreads and rant on Twitter.

    I seek out disability themes in romance, especially physical disability, to try to weed out the appropriation stories and point people towards more “realistic” portrayals. Right now I’m forcing myself to re-read Phantom Waltz so I can write an in depth review explaining why it’s Doing It Wrong. It’s a dirty job, but someone’s got to do it.

  31. Amanda Blair says:

    I’m actually writing my Master’s Thesis on this subject and I agree to avoid Catherine Anderson.  I find her disabled heroines extremely offensive.

  32. Ridley says:

    @Emily: I almost had tears in my eyes reading Broken by Megan Hart because I understood Adam’s frustration so well. I still hate what Hart did to him in that novel, but she did a wonderful job conveying the alienation and frustration that comes with physical disability without turning him into a mopey Woobie.

    As a rule, I enjoy disabled male characters in romance much more than I do female ones. I think because women are expected to be the ones who put others first and do the nurturing, authors can’t seem to write disabled heroines who don’t feel guilty about being a burden. They seem much more comfortable with a “needy” hero than they do with a heroine. It’s like they see disability rendering women as less than feminine now that she can’t be Super Mom who does it all. It’s irksome.

  33. Charity says:

    Ridley – thank you for jogging my mind regarding why I didn’t enjoy Catherine Anderson’s work (since it wasn’t as if the writing was appalling).  My mother read her books like they were going out of fashion back when I was a teenager, and I borrowed two or three to read as well.  At the time, I couldn’t really put my finger on what it was that bothered me except that something “seemed really off”.

    I haven’t read too many books featuring heroines with physical disabilities so I can really only third/fourth/fifth “Again the Magic”.  I, too, would be interested in romance novels that hold up to scrutiny with regards to non-obvious/non-visible chronic conditions.

  34. susan says:

    In Maggie Osborne’s The Best Man one of the three sisters lost a leg in an accident, and part of the book is about how she comes to terms with her disability.

  35. Elli says:

    LaVyrle Spencer had a heroine who had REALLY HUGE BREASTS.  It was a disability, she couldn’t run, her back hurt, her shoulders hurt, men treated her like a freak.

    She was a SIZE DOUBLE DD.  Okay, I’m a DD, and, um, it’s not that bad. Thanks, LaVyrle.  Anyway, the heroine ended up with a guy who treated her like a human being in spite of her REALLY HUGE BREASTS.  But she had to go away and have a surgical reduction before she felt good about herself.

    LS also had a heroine who was REALLY REALLY FAT.  Roll her in flour and look for the wet spot fat.  But she went away and lost weight and the hero, who was decent because he didn’t make the wet spot joke, fell in love with her.  Thanks, LaVyrle.

  36. CarrieS says:

    I can’t believe I forgot about “Flowers From the Storm”, awesome book with hero who has to recover from what is presumably a stroke that impacts his ability to write and speak.  I thought it was wonderful although it did involve the prospect of “getting better”, albiet with very hard work as opposed to magic sex, and I’d like to see more romances where the disability doesn’t go away.

    @Ridely – I’m too scatterbrained for a blog, too, but writing guest reviews for Sarah is a great outlet for me and I bet she’d be interested in your stuff – I would love to hear more of your thoughts on what make for good quality, effective romance writing involving disability.

  37. Sarah B. says:

    One Amanda Quick novel, Reckless, had a heroine that had a limp/damaged leg from an accident. I don’t remember perfectly, but I don’t recall it being handled offensively.

  38. Betsy says:

    There was also a Harlequin Presents back in the 80s, where the heroine was a painter who had gone blind.  She wouldn’t use a white cane, so the alpha male bully hero gave her an ivory cane; she ended up becoming a sculptor.

  39. Deb says:

    “Clear Water” by Amy Lane has a hero with ADHD. While not the same as an injury or chronic disease, it is clearly something that has a wide-ranging impact on the hero, and he needed to take care of himself in certain ways (yoga, eating well, meds) or things would fall apart. I don’t have ADHD, so I don’t know how realistic of a portrayal it was, but I did learn more about ADHD than I’d previously known, and I felt like I got a glimpse into what it might be like to live with a brain that is differently wired. The book actually explains quite a bit, medically, about ADHD.

    It’s a M/M romance (romantic suspense, I think), and one I really enjoyed. I’d be interested to hear what someone with ADHD thought about the portrayal.

  40. Betsy says:

    There was also a Harlequin Presents back in the 80s, where the heroine was a painter who had gone blind.  She wouldn’t use a white cane, so the alpha male bully hero gave her an ivory cane; she ended up becoming a sculptor.

    The Ivory Cane, by Janet Dailey

Comments are closed.

By posting a comment, you consent to have your personally identifiable information collected and used in accordance with our privacy policy.

↑ Back to Top