We’ve all seen the stories where the protagonist starts to feel strange aches in their body, have sudden disorienting perceptions of the world, or begin floating, usually right before a cathartic realization of their new self as a superhero, but The Moth Girl by Heather Kamins is a story where those symptoms mean something entirely different. Protagonists with chronic illness are a rarity in sci-fi and fantasy and I hope to read more novels like this that bring those characters to the forefront in the genre.
Anna’s starting her sophomore year on a high note with new outfits to try out at parties and burgeoning friendships with the fastest squad on the cross-country team. She’s finally running at the front of the pack when the stunning swiftness in her feet turns to a growing pain that leaves her unconscious, and hovering, in the middle of practice. She’s diagnosed with a manifestological disorder that bars her from doing almost everything she’d enjoyed before and leaves her with the question of who she really is and how she defines herself.
This book was something I hadn’t realized I was searching for, and I’m glad that it’s out there now on the shelves. The illness has several fantastical effects, from floating to growing scales, but the looming fear and dread of what each small indulgence might mean and having to remind others of new needs and limitations is a very grounded depiction of the experience of chronic illness. As is the uncertainty that comes with the promise of a “normal life span” and yet the potentially debilitating and deadly consequences of living everyday life. It’s not every experience of diagnosis, but the tangle of emotions in Anna and the reactions from her family and friends are something that can apply to many. The part that really struck home for me was the awkward and sometimes harmful perspectives Anna’s friends had towards her diagnosis. For some, communication on both sides was enough to mend the fractured bridges, but for others it was simply best to let them go when they were dragging her back.
I’d recommend this book to those who like magical realism, the movie Patema Inverted, or who need a story about chronic illness where the fantastical doesn’t magically fix it.