I read Geek Love as a teenager, but it is not a book I generally recommend to teens. This story of a sideshow family confronts that dark fringes of the human experience and insists on a new definition of “normal” in a way that spoke to the teenage me very strongly. The book is a staple in Disability Studies courses, and it was a National Book Award Finalist in 1990.
Perhaps teens who aren’t quite ready for the quirky macabre of Geek Love might like Dreamland Social Club by Tara Altebrando. This novel, set on Coney Island, also addresses life as a sideshow “freak” but from a more comfortable distance. Chasing Ray speaks highly of Dreamland Social Club in this post.
Big Girl Small by Rachel DeWoskin proves that you don’t need a sideshow to address issues of pity and isolation. You just need a high school. This novel, published for adults, is narrated by a 16 year-old dwarf, who is a very talented singer enrolled at a performing arts high school. Judy’s first person narration reminded me a lot of Olympia’s in Geek Love. Both are witty observers of human nature and sardonic commentators on their shared stature. They both reveal the meat of their stories slowly, but they bring an extraordinary amount of emotion to what otherwise might read as a cliche.
I highly recommend Big Girl Small to readers (adults or mature teens) interested in exploring the vulnerability in being different.