Summary: George has a mysterious past that tortures him through nightmares and visions but remains just beyond his conscious memory. When he meets Hook, a young man left a paraplegic after a motorcycle accident, Hook realises George is also dealing with circumstances that make him different and befriends him. New laws mean students dealing with disabilities are all eligible to receive the same education as ‘normal’ students, and Heather and Amie both end up at the same school as George and Hook as a result. Together they form a tight group of friends who call themselves “The Cripples’ Club.” After experiencing a number of events that remind them of how vulnerable they are, Hook comes up with a plan for the group to regain their confidence.
Number of Pages: 198
Age Range: 13-15
Review: Titled The Cripples’ Club in 1988 and then re-titled Absolutely Invincible in 1993, William Bell’s book is about the life-changing friendships that develop between George, Hook, Heather and Amie, four students who are each crippled in various ways.
What I love about this book is that Bell fosters respect for his characters instead of pity and no one dies. Faced with being targeted by bullies and personal injury because of their disabilities, the self-named Cripples’ Club decides to take control by going on a camping adventure to prove their independence and strength.
Although the second title suggests George, Hook, Heather and Amie are not affected by all of the things that happen to them, Bell’s story becomes more powerful because all of them face hardship and go on anyway. It’s not about a lack of emotion, it’s a choice that they all make on a continual basis, to not give up and to take life as it comes. Their friendship via The Cripples’ Club supports all of them and even provides a safe place for George to work out his repressed past.
This is one of my favourite books, and I love that part of it is a traditional story about connecting to the Canadian wilderness in spite of dealing with physical disabilities.
“I do not answer. I study his face. I see things there. I understand. His no-power feeling as the chair carried him like an egg into the traffic. His burning anger at the jeers of the Black Ones. His smallness feeling.
Maybe the shadows own his legs.” – George from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 20
“He talks again. ‘You know, George, most of the time I can handle it, but every once in a while I hate being a cripple. God, I hate it!’
He looks down. A tear plops onto his wet lap.
He sits like that for a few minutes.
Before I know it, the words are out of my mouth. ‘I’m a cripple, too, Hook.’
I don’t know why I say it. But I know I am. Like Hook but different.
He looks up at me, wiping each eye with the back of his left hand. He smiles. Strength seems to flow back into him.
‘What a pair we are, eh, George? Absolutely. You with no memory bank, me with no stilts and a fish hook for a hand. We oughta team up. George and the Dragon.'” – Conversation between Hook and George from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 20
“It sounds strange, but I don’t mind being called a cripple. I like it. Hook and I are different, but this is a big thing we have in common. We belong to – I don’t know to what, but that is a feeling I have.” – George from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 40
“No, it was like he was somehow making things normal, not in a phony, pretend way, but like he was saying, ‘Okay, life is tough. End of philosophy lesson. Now, let’s get to work. I got a race to run here. And racers wear socks.” – George from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 53
“‘I want to say this,’ she continues, ‘because it’s important. Before, even at school where I learned to sign, I felt alone most of the time. Everybody around me had the same problem, more or less, so the whole school was set up for us. There were no normal kids there. You felt like you were living in a big cocoon, with miles of cotton padding insulating you from the rest of the world. It was a different kind of aloneness, you know?
‘But now I feel like I’m making it in the real world. The Club helps me be . . . be, I don’t know, be me. Yeah, that’s it. In the other school, I never felt like the real me. Now I do.'” – Heather from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 90
“I look at him there, waist deep in the water. His legs are like white tubes. The wavelets move them under the water. The legs disappear into the green shorts with the leaping red frogs on them. Above the shorts, Hook is big, with a thick, tanned chest and wide shoulders. His hook is off and the scar on his stump shows up white against his tan. Hook is weak and strong at the same time.
So is Amie. She is blind, but she is really smart. Heather is a deaf-mute but she is smart, too, and she always knows how people feel. All three are strong in spirit.” – George from The Cripples’ Club by William Bell, page 197
The Cripples’ Club by William Bell is published by Irwin Publishing, (1988).