Being Seen by Elsa Sjunneson is definitely a one of a kind book. I fell in love with the author’s voice straight after the first few pages! She’s so cool to listen to (well, read is what I mean, I guess), and despite the differences between our circumstances, I found it super easy to vibe with all she was saying.
Check out on Goodreads
★★★★★ 5 stars
How I read this:
free ebook copy from Edelweiss
Being Seen talks about many facets of disability – of course, focusing the most on being deafblind, especially as a woman, since that’s the point of view of the author herself. While she explains how it’s not every disabled person’s job to school every nondisabled person about what it’s like to live disabled, she still explains a lot about the mechanics of her own life in this book.
But the main point of it is to once and for all beat it into our heads that Disability. Is. Not. A. Monolith. Which means, disabled people are just as different from each other as nondisabled people. They can have vastly different opinions (regarding disability too, just like anything else in life). And I think the author does a great job explaining this and does this in a convincing, relatable voice.
But apart from that, the the author talks about some points on disability and especially disability perception in society that most of us might not be aware of. For example, how little children who are disabled are often considered little warriors, but once they turn into young adults, they’re suddenly considered a burden on society, and they lose their “worth”. Have you ever thought about it? I will admit that I haven’t, and it’s so unfair that this happens. Infuriatingly so. It’s not like we can choose not to grow up? (It has also been weeks since I finished this book, but I keep thinking about this and just can’t let it go. It’s one of those things you can’t “unsee” when you learn it exists.)
She also addresses the fact of how disabled people’s memoirs are perceived (and which ones “sell”). Disabled people’s memoirs sell, when they’re geared to inspire nondisabled people. It’s centered towards “overcoming despite the hardship”. Sure, it’s cool to read an inspirational story, but is that the only way a disabled person’s life memories and lessons become “worthwhile”? To show non-disabled people that “they need to do better, if this person did well at all”?
An image of the cover of Being Seen on a Pocketbook Color ereader, there is a candle next to it and some books and candy scattered all around; Photo by AvalinahsBooks
It also tries to make it clear that being deaf and blind has layers. If you ask someone what a blind person sees, I’m sure that more than half (if not 90% of the people) will say “nothing”, but guess what? Not true. Because most blind people see – they just see on a level that doesn’t provide enough information to do certain things solely by sight. (I must say I was sadly once one of those people, before I read a book about a man and his seeing eye dog. I remember how mind-blown I was when I found out.)
And why do we always think of blindness as “they see nothing”? Because that’s the only kind of blind person the media ever portrays. And much of Being Seen is dedicated to talking about that.
Speaking of which, the book about the man and his seeing eye dog that I just mentioned is Have Dog, Will Travel, and it is also discussed in Being Seen. It was very interesting to have both of those books tie in the info that they both provide, because the points of view are rather different. The author of Being Seen says that she wanted to present the woman’s take on some of the same experiences, because they can be vastly different due to how we’re brought up as female- or male-assigned at birth. It’s true, and reading the woman’s take on that was very enriching.
I’m giving this book 5 stars, because it’s necessary, it needs to be heard and it said things that need to be said, and also because it was snarky, and taught me some things I didn’t know. But it doesn’t mean that I agree to everything 100% – I don’t need to, and that’s not the point (because I am nondisabled). I just need to hear what’s being said and get educated, just as any nondisabled reader.
My bottom line is – if you’re nondisabled, well, it’s quite likely some things in this book will make you uncomfortable! And you know what? It’s meant to do that, and that’s the whole point of you reading it.
Some disabled writers appear angry to nondisabled readers sometimes – and that’s because they’ve got a good reason to be (usually more like a good million of reasons that have been waiting to be heard for YEARS.) Read it – and soak it up. Next time you’ll pick up on the tropes on the TV, know not to go out of your way to help someone before they’ve even asked, or call out that pesky uncle of yours who keeps policing people in wheelchairs in the shopping centre.
You might not agree to some things, you might not want to hear others – but the main idea here is – read it, learn it, mull it over. And next time you see ableism, do something about it. Bring a small positive change to the world.One Deafblind Woman’s Fight to End Ableism – Being Seen by Elsa Sjunneson Click To Tweet
Being Seen is definitely a book you’ll want to read, if you’re even remotely interested in inclusion and understanding people whose circumstances might be a little different to yours. Plus, it’s actually very interesting to learn about the human experience, when it’s not shown through your typical lens – I promise you that reading a book like Being Seen every now and then will enrich your view of even your own life, as you know it.
I thank the publisher for giving me a free copy of the ebook in exchange to my honest review. This has not affected my opinion.
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I’m Evelina and I blog about books that made an impression on me. I love middle grade, women’s, scifi and some literary too.