Years ago, an editor challenged me to write a story about a disabled teenager eager to experience love, romance and even sex in the same way his able bodied friends are doing. Now, all these years later, I've taken up that challenge, although I squibbed the sex bit, in favour of exploring how a disabled boy has to fight for a place in the world where he can be accepted for the abilities he has, rather than protected from the world because of the abilities he lacks.
The Beauty is in the Walking is the story of Jacob O'Leary who lives in a small Queensland town a few hours drive from Brisbane. He suffers from Cerebral Palsy, although he's not as badly affected as many others who have to deal with CP. Thanks to his Mum, who worked tirelessly on his legs when he was younger, he's not confined to a wheelchair. In fact, he can walk without crutches, as long as he doesn't get too ambitious. He's lucky to have a friendship group who protect him from would-be bullies, but in his final year at school, Jacob is starting to see how this protective 'fence' around him is also a prison.
His Mum expects him to stay in town and work in the family business after he leaves school. It's so she can keep an eye on him and make sure he's safe, she says, or is this another way of saying, she wants to control his life. His mates include him in their circle, but only as long as he's a follower with quick one-liners that make them laugh. That's not enough. Jacob wants to get out in front as leader of the pack. Will they be so friendly then? And none of this even begins to touch on Jacob's greatest need - he wants a girlfriend and not just someone who'll be nice to him and maybe hold hands. He wants the full-on romance thing! How's that going to work when saliva sometimes pools in the corner of his mouth.
Jacob doesn't lack courage, though. When a series of attacks on animals shocks the town, he sees his chance. Everyone suspects the wrong guy, because it's easier to believe the culprit is an outsider. Jacob suspects otherwise and he's going to prove it, with the help of Amy, a long time friend who cautiously lets him know she'd like to be more. Suddenly, she's not the only girl in his life, either, now that Chloe has arrived from the city. What kind of friend will Chloe be? She's a bit full of herself, after all. Will she only make things harder for Jacob, or is she just the challenge he needs.
I hope you'll enjoy watching Jacob grow up in this book. I tried to make him the kind of character you can clutch to your heart, a battler who takes it on the chin and gets up again afterwards. That's the only way he's going to find out the truth about the sinister crimes in his community and about himself, too.