Category #7 of the Sapphic Reading Challenge features another group of people that is definitely underrepresented in WLW & lesbian fiction: characters who have a disability.
It can be a book about a character with a physical disability, a chronic illness, or a mental disorder. When you pick the book you’re going to read, don’t forget that some disabilities are invisible or less apparent, for example, chronic pain, fibromyalgia, migraines, and mental illnesses.
Read up on the rules of the Sapphic Reading Challenge
If you are new to the Sapphic Reading Challenge, read up on the rules and download your PDF so you can keep track of the books you read this year. Remember that you can either read one of the 15 books listed below or pick another sapphic book featuring a protagonist with a disability.
15 sapphic novels featuring characters with a disability or mental illness
I put together a list of 15 novels featuring characters with a disability or mental illness. I hope you’ll find one you enjoy.
Just Physical by Jae (character has multiple sclerosis)
It was supposed to be just a one-night stand.
After being diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, 25-year-old Jill Corrigan takes herself off the romantic market. Not wanting to become a burden to a potential partner, she focuses on her career as an actress instead.
On the set of a disaster movie, she meets stunt woman Kristine “Crash” Patterson, whose easy smile instantly makes Jill wish things were different. Meanwhile, Crash is trained to fall, but she didn’t count on falling in love.
Despite their growing feelings for each other, Jill resolves to let Crash into her bed, but not her heart.
As they start to play with fire on and off camera, will they really be able to keep things just physical?
Invisible, as Music by Caren J. Werlinger (character has polio)
Henrietta Cochran has spent nearly forty years dealing with the effects of the polio she contracted in 1945. Her braces and crutches restrict her, define her, but they also give her independence. Almost. She hates that she has become increasingly reliant on a series of live-in companions to help her. For some reason, the companions never seem to want to stay very long. So Henrietta retreats further and further into her art, where her physical limitations don’t matter.
Into her life sails Meryn Fleming: out, outspoken, and fiercely political. She’s young, enthusiastically diving into her first job as a history professor at the local college. When she falls, almost literally, into Henrietta’s path, she seems like a godsend.
Little does Henrietta know that this young woman is about to upend her carefully structured existence. Ryn challenges everything, barging right through the walls Henrietta has built to keep others at a distance.
To Ryn, Henrietta is an enigma: prickly and easily insulted at the slightest suggestion that she can’t do things for herself; a brilliant artist capable of producing the most beautiful paintings; and sometimes, when Henrietta doesn’t realize she’s letting her guard down, a tender and sensitive woman.
With Meryn’s youthful optimism pitted against Henrietta’s jaded acceptance of the world as it is, life will never be the same for either of them.
Mending Defects by Lynn Galli (character has a heart condition)
Life in a small town can be tricky. Laid-back Glory Eiben learned long ago that keeping personal information and opinions to herself goes a long way toward staying hassle free in her chosen home town. Much adored by the residents, she’s maintained the life she’s always wanted with good friends, close family, and a successful career. For someone with a rare congenital heart defect, this life is more than she could have hoped for.
Leaving behind big city excitement, a demanding position, and a failed relationship, Lena Coleridge thinks this small ski town may be exactly what she needs to come back from her wit’s end. She didn’t think that job politics or social landmines would exist in such a small town. Keeping to herself won’t be an option with these nosy locals. It doesn’t help that she lives next door to one of the more popular residents who seems too easy going and nice to be true. Friendship is inevitable, but as she gets to know Glory, friendship isn’t the only thing on her mind. After her last relationship, Lena doesn’t want anything to do with another complication, and dating her neighbor could definitely get complicated.
Wounded Souls by RJ Nolan (character lost one leg)
Dr. Ashlee Logan’s world changed forever on a snowy December night in Boston. She has spent the last two years on the road, trying to escape the memory of that fateful night. With only her Great Dane, Drake, as her companion, she has worked her way across country from the Atlantic to the Pacific, working as an ER physician along the way.
While serving her country, former Navy doctor Dale Parker had her life shattered in a single moment on a hot, windswept desert roadside. Now, three years later, although her physical wounds have healed, Dale is forever changed by the experience. Struggling with her self-image, she has dedicated her second chance at life to helping other wounded veterans.
LA Metropolitan Hospital brings the two women together. Drawn together as kindred spirits, neither wants to face the stirring of emotions the other woman invokes.
Together can Dale and Logan move past the horrific events of their pasts, or are they forever destined to be…Wounded Souls?
Times Like These by Ana McKenzie (character is losing her sight)
Merren Hardy is delighted when her thirst for new experiences turns into a holiday job for an attractive older woman. She’s more than happy to be muse, model, assistant, and lover – especially lover – for brilliant and successful Bianca Graves. After all, Merren’s smart with a big-picture view of the world and a practical streak wide enough to deal with Bianca’s difficulties. She’s a problem-solver. Except there’s one problem Merren’s never had to solve before – what happens when you fall in love with a woman who can’t see you properly?
Bianca’s an artist losing her sight, desperate to find a way to continue painting and keep her career and sense of identity. She needs more than a muse, more than a young woman to model for her. She needs someone to reach out and touch her when everything’s going dark – and help her find the way back to her life. Which surely means Merren’s too young, too different, worlds apart in experience. Bianca knows a summer fling at such a difficult time is one thing – but it can’t go any further.
As it turns out, however – there’s more than one way to be blind.
All in the Family by Q. Kelly (Deaf character)
Allison Albrecht and Samantha Cannizarro are thrown together when their parents become engaged. Sam is deaf, so Allison begins to learn sign language. Allison is eager to please Sam and to make a good impression on her. Sam does not care about good impressions. She is a loner, always has been. She resents her new instant family, especially her stepmother-to-be. Sam is also reluctant to bond with three-year-old Allen. However, Allison and Allen gradually crack Sam’s facade, and the two girls fall in love.
But life in a stepfamily is rarely easy. Throw in romance between two stepsiblings, and the ride is going to be bumpy.
Blades of Bluegrass by D. Jackson Leigh (character lost one arm)
Captain Britt Story lost more than her left arm in Afghanistan. She lost faith in honor and humanity when her command’s failure to act cost a young soldier’s life, turning Britt into a ticking political time bomb the U.S. Army and her father, an influential senator, are desperate to disarm.
Occupational therapist First Lieutenant Teddy Alexander was thrust into the national spotlight when she successfully petitioned to receive survivor’s benefits after her wife was killed in Afghanistan days before DOMA was repealed. Six years later, she remains safely cocooned in the past by her military family until her assignment to rehab Captain Story drags them both into a confusing battle between duty, consequences, and hot attraction.
Survival Kit by A. H. Haga (character has myalgic encephalomyelitis)
When the dead prowl the streets of Oslo, survivors Kit and Shadia have to get out of there. They decide to go where the dead can’t follow–their family cabin on a remote island–but they have to fight their way out of the city first.
Facing the dangers of this new world, both living and dead, is hard enough, but the couple also has to deal with Kit’s severe Myalgic Encephalomyelitis. It can throw a wrench into the simplest of plans, and Kit’s fear that the sickness may be the death of her seems more a reality for every day.
Despite the odds being stacked against them, Shadia and Kit are ready to fight for their survival and for each other.
Finding Jessica Lambert by Clare Ashton (character has anxiety)
Movie star Jessica Lambert is in danger of burning out. Returning to London for the premiere of her latest film, she’s recognised everywhere she goes. When she runs away through the streets of London, she’s taken in by the beautiful and more mature Anna. The two hide in the sanctuary of Anna’s roof-top flat, a haven away from the crowds, but why has Anna removed herself from the world?
As the two women get to know each other, stripping away the layers, both appreciate what each does for the other. This could be the start of something wonderful, more than either of them know.
Good Vibes by Cara Malone (character has agoraphobia)
The little details have never interested Libby. From her eclectic style to her carefree attitude about her adult toy shop, she’s all about the big picture. But when her business partner retires, Libby’s safety net disappears and it’s up to her to sink or swim.
For old-school card game nerd Theo, the details are everything. Her anxiety demands to know the rules, the players and the goal in any situation, and it can be hard to even leave her apartment unless she knows exactly what’s coming her way.
When Theo’s sister gets engaged, she’s forced out of her comfort zone and into Libby’s shop on the hunt for bachelorette party supplies.
Opposites attract and Theo is drawn into Libby’s chaotic world. She wants to help Libby save the shop and together they come up with a plan, but will they be brave enough to play the game of love?
My Year Zero by Rachel Gold (character has bipolar disorder)
Lauren thinks she has a pretty good life—so why is it that she feels crazy most of the time? She figures it’s nothing she can’t fix by getting her first girlfriend and doing better at school. But how is she ever going to find a girlfriend in Duluth, Minnesota?
When she meets a group of kids who are telling a science fiction story online and gets invited down to the Twin Cities, she gets more attention than she ever expected, from two very different girls: charming Sierra and troublesome Blake.
Blake helps Lauren understand that she’s not the crazy one in her life. But Blake’s attention—and insights into life and living with bipolar disorder—threaten to destroy everything Lauren has created for herself, including her relationship with Sierra.
Far from Home by Lorelie Brown (character has an eating disorder)
My name is Rachel. I’m straight . . . I think. I also have a mountain of student loans and a smart mouth. I wasn’t serious when I told Pari Sadashiv I’d marry her. It was only party banter! Except Pari needs a green card, and she’s willing to give me a breather from drowning in debt.
My off-the-cuff idea might not be so terrible. We get along as friends. She’s really romantically cautious, which I find heartbreaking. She deserves someone to laugh with. She’s kind. And calm. And gorgeous. A couple of years with her actually sounds pretty good. If some of Pari’s kindness and calm rubs off on me, that’d be a bonus, because I’m a mess—anorexia is not a pretty word—and my little ways of keeping control of myself, of the world, aren’t working anymore.
And if I slip up, Pari will see my cracks. Then I’ll crack. Which means I gotta get out, quick, before I fall in love with my wife.
A Breathless Place by Harper Bliss (character has depression)
When all hope is lost, can music be the ultimate lifeline?
Isabel ‘Izzy’ Adler used to dominate the world’s stages with her vocal acrobatics. But since she lost her voice ten years ago, Izzy’s been to hell—and hasn’t found her way back.
When journalist Leila Zadeh is brought in to finish her biography, Izzy’s dark plans for her life are challenged by the brilliant and gorgeous new woman in her life.
Will the instant attraction between them be enough to stop Izzy from playing out her final song?
Shadows of Something Real by Sophia Kell Hagin (character has PTSD)
In some ways, Marine Lieutenant Jamie Gwynmorgan has it pretty good. The motherly kindness of Lynn Hillinger, the senator she saved during the war that nearly killed them both, never wavers. Plus she has a great place to stay while she’s on convalescent leave—and a steady supply of the best lemonade on earth.
But flashbacks and nightmares shadow her as she tries to decide: Attempt a return to active duty, or…what?
Jamie doubts she can ever achieve the peaceful life she dreams of—until she meets smart, idealistic Adele Sabellius. As their relationship deepens, almost anything seems possible.
Soon, however, Jamie learns that something more menacing than nightmares and flashbacks has begun to twist the restless shadows around her. Though she may never understand why Adele loves her, Jamie will do whatever it takes to keep Adele safe when relentless enemies emerge from those darkening shadows to threaten yet another war.
Come Away with Me (Midnight in Manhattan Book 3) by Rachel Lacey (character has panic attacks)
A television star and a flight attendant walk into a bar…
Six months after a traumatic event left actress Piper Sheridan confined to her apartment with debilitating panic attacks, she’s determined to start living her life again. Motivated by an upcoming audition, she summons her courage and goes out for a drink, keeping her identity under wraps. It sounds simple enough, but nothing about going out in public is easy for Piper these days. And her hopes of going unnoticed are stymied by the bubbly blonde on the next barstool.
Flight attendant Chloe Carson is only in New York for the night, and she’s only looking for a little casual fun to go with her cocktail. The mysterious woman beside her isn’t fun, exactly…but she’s intriguing. And beautiful. Even without knowing her name, Chloe is drawn to her. When they share an unexpectedly intimate moment, Chloe knows this is a night she’ll never forget.
Can these two strangers turn a chance encounter into something lasting?
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