how it feels to be a monsterIllustration by Gita Labrador.

Everyone is afraid of something.  In One by Sarah Crossan, Grace lists her family’s fears.  Most of them are typical fears: clowns, bugs, mice.  Grace’s fear is a bit different:

“Me?

It’s eyes I despise.

Eyes,

            eyes,

                               eyes,

                                            everywhere,

and the probability that I’m

another person’s nightmare.”

Grace and her sister Tippi are conjoined twins, though she notes that they have been called much worse. She shares in matter-of-fact verse:  “freaks, fiends,  / monsters, mutants,  / and even a two-headed demon once,  / which made me cry so hard / I had puffy eyes for a week.” Like anyone whose body is visibly different, Grace and Tippi know the feeling of stares and whispers. They know that they can never blend in; they are always on display for the world whenever they leave the house.  They know that they aren’t monsters or mutants, but they also know that it’s a strong probability that their presence will frighten people.

It is the way things have always been for them.  Life side-by-side is all they have ever known, and the idea of not having her sister next to her all the time seems to Grace like it would feel lonely and wrong. But things change for Grace and Tippi in the book.  The first change is that they are being sent to school for the first time after being homeschooled for most of their lives.  School means a lot of eyes on them in a sea of students who are all trying to blend in or stand-out in different ways.  Of course, for most of them blending in or standing out is a choice. Grace yearns for the ability to be invisible.

For readers, like myself, who are like Grace and Tippi in that they also cannot blend in with the sea of normal bodies, there is a lot of truth contained in this story about how it feels to be visibly different.  You see, Grace doesn’t wish for a life apart from her sister or her body changed, but she does wish for people to look at her without fear or pity. I have shared a similar wish with many people over the years.  With my hook-shaped prosthetic arm, I have the appearance of a storybook villain, but I’ve never once wished for a different body, a normal two-handed body.  My only wish has ever been for people to see me without the fear or pity that has a way of feeling unavoidable.

Starting school is only the beginning of the changes for Grace and Tippi in this book, however, and author Sarah Crossan creates a story that is a universal tale of difference in this novel-in-verse as the teens navigate new environments and difficult choices.