From Nashville, Tennessee; Jeremy Scott, the author of The Ables, is also the co-creator of popular website and YouTube channel CinemaSins. Best known for the nitpicking comedy videos Everything wrong with [insert movie title here]. The success of the channel and the website (on which one can buy merchandise like CinemaSins mugs and t-shirts (you know, if you feel the need)) has meant that Scott has been able to spend more time writing. The result is The Ables, which he self-published earlier this year (2015) via Clovercroft Publishing.
The Ables is a tale about a group of twelve year-olds with superpowers. They also have significant disabilities. On the surface their impairments hinder their superpowers, even causing them to be canceled out entirely. However, through trust and the close friendships that connect a group in a way that only seems possible in the awful adolescent years at school, the characters do incredible things.
I was told of the book by a good friend who wanted to get my perspective on the portrayal of young people with disabilities. That strums a few chords with my life and current work, so this is one area where if i can’t claim expertise, I can claim experience. I’ve also wanted superpowers since I was about three (who hasn’t?) so was intrigued to find and read this book.
Firstly, this is not some kind of sop story, nor is it a weak expression of the sympathy and hope an in-experienced, non-disabled author. Let me explain. If it was the latter then I would expect to come across the trite message, ‘disabled people can do anything!’ That message can be attractive, especially to someone young who discovers they have a disability, as I was. But it is a mirage, a lie to cloak ones-self with when cold reality starts to bite. It bites anyway, and the cloak is as useless as the proverbial emperors clothes.
Because there are limits to everything one can do, whether disabled or not, one has to probe deeper. People’s aspirations often have little to do with physical or mental power. Having friends. Feeling loved, and accepted by your friends and family. Being truly comfortable as yourself. These are much more important than being able to walk well, or at all, and being able to see. I think Jeremy Scott has grasped the edges of this point. Friendship and trust are what truly counts in The Ables. Although the superpowers somewhat overshadow the disabilities, which are static impairments. They don’t charge requiring the characters to adapting differently as the story goes along. More on that later.
His story begins with the discovery by a young man of a superpower he’d never known about. This cleverly and rather pleasingly inverts the experience I mentioned before, about being a teenager and learning you have a disability. Watching your horizon disappear behind a cloud. That is an experience many people have had, are having right now, and will have in the future. Getting past it is important, but through inverting the experience Jeremy Scott starts with possibility and aspiration.
I am deliberately edging around the narrative by not mentioning any specifics, but I will say that this protagonist is placed in a school for superhero kids, where he is crestfallen to realise that he’s in the ‘special’ education class with other disabled kids. Yes, disabled people have the same fears and anxieties as anyone else, the desire to fit in only being exacerbated by the intolerance of the powerful in society, whether school boards or bullies (is their a difference?).
Strength, as you would suspect lies in numbers. The group of disabled kids with their array of powers and impairments calls themselves ‘The Ables’, after a mythical superhero group that saved the world in centuries past. They have to work hard together to compete with their peers, for what good is telekinesis if one is blind? If one’s wheelchair bound but sighted friend is telepathic, then seeing becomes a matter of communication and trust. I really don’t want to spill anymore details of the novel here, so if my disjointed rambling is appealing to your curiosity, then please get your hands on a copy of The Ables and satisfy yourself.
Non-physical disabilities: intellectual, learning, developmental, mental — buried in jargon and euphemism are the actual people with such disabilities (note that ‘people’ comes first), who are not prominent earlier in the book, become more important later n. On reason is that Scott allows his characters to be nervous and slow about including the down syndrome kid with unknown powers in the group. The relationship develops over time. In a period when intolerance is condemned and acceptance demanded at the first, it is refreshing to see it as more of a journey. People’s value can’t really be measured in a paragraph or a page. It requires chapters.
One criticism I will make is that for the co-creator of a YouTube series that makes it’s living by nitpicking the sins of movies, Scott was guilty of a bit of sloppiness in this regard himself. In the book a character that is plainly said to have one arm is referred to later as having “his hands on his knees”. A sin certainly but one that is easily forgivable. After all this book was self-published, which might explain the occasional editorial lapse. It’s not enough to harm the story.
An absence I did feel quite keenly was the idea of a progressive disability. They are not uncommon, and I have one myself. I am not merely disappointed in that for my own sake, but because it would have been an interesting narrative turn to see a character with a changing condition, and to see what bearing that has on their superpower. Does it become mire useful or less? Obviously it would depend on the power, and perhaps Scott will write a sequel and consider that. However, this is not ultimately a book about disability, but about friendship and coming of age. It’s good to bear that in mind
I haven’t mentioned the primary antagonist, or gone into the subversion of the Messiah theme. You will have to forgive me but I have grown tired and sincerely hope that you will read the book. Come on now, it’s 364 pages — not a time by any means.
In sum The Ables is an entertaining and sustaining read. It is more dramatic and emotionally sophisticated than I assumed it would be, and a fairly good insight into the character of disabled people. Superhero’s or not, Jeremy Scott treats them as people.
The Ables is available at amazon.
Check out the trailers for the book below!