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Asthma in Mainstream(ish) Media: Teen Fiction Books

I recently posted a prompt in an asthma discussion group that I moderate about books with characters that have asthma. Forgetting I had written an article about this in 2016, I listed 4 of the same books off the top of my head. I only had one addition to what I had written. Of the 1,000 books I have read since the beginning of 2017 (give or take—it was actually 1,018 but there may be duplicates!), while not all were books for younger readers, many were. And off hand, I can only think of one more character who had asthma: Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer.

And let me tell you, John Grisham, asthma is a boring out for why he is busy kid lawyer-ing rather than playing soccer. Maybe he could just hate organized sports?

Anyways, more on that in a second.

So, I had to go on a quest: read more books with characters who have asthma! I mean, after all, as I start this article on March 6, 2023, I have already read 52 books this year--what's a few more?

(Note: I will not be perusing the Goodreads list called Romantic Heroines with Asthma, because uh, no. Also, I will not be covering Lord of the Flies, not here, and not in article 3 of this series possibly another 7 years from now.)

Books with characters that have asthma

Theodore Boone: Kid Lawyer | John Grisham

Look, if I were a kid reading this, I would probably be bored, or at least bored-ish. But look, Theodore Boone cannot play organized sports because of his asthma. Actually, per John Grisham's wording that is not kid-friendly sounding- "An asthma condition prohibited him from participating in organized sports."

Mr. Grisham, kids do not call them "organized sports", they are just on a team. (I assume Theo Boone also cannot play disorganized sports?)

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John Grisham is apparently in the decades-ago of asthma and sounds like he is ninety-four despite being born in 1955. This is not a character with asthma to aspire to given this book was written in 2010. Look, if Theo just wanted to do all his kid lawyering and dive into the dusty library stacks with an inhaler at his side? Cool. Here for that.

Maybe soccer on the pollen-y field does not work for him. Same for the dusty gravel track running. Maybe he cannot swim with the chlorine. Maybe they practice hockey outdoors and it's -40 because they are in Winnipeg (note: no John Grisham character has ever been from my hometown of Winnipeg). But look: even if he cannot do all of those things, which is probably unlikely, he could quite probably still play volleyball or badminton or squash or basketball or something indoors-y.

Maybe it is not just his asthma, John. MAYBE THEODORE BOONE HATES THE OUTDOORS AND PREFERS STUDYING LAW AT AGE 13. THERE IS NOTHING WRONG WITH THAT. I would have been that kid, probably, and I did not even have asthma when I was 13.

The Owls Have Come To Take Us Away | Ronald L. Smith

On this excursion I found a Goodreads user looking for a book about a boy who had asthma and was abducted by aliens. I hope they found it, because the book they were looking for is this one.

Sign. Me. Up.

To read the book, I mean, not be abducted by aliens. But, being perfectly honest, I would be okay with a little temporary alien abduction, also.

While out camping with his family, Simon believes he got abducted by aliens. This is by far the more interesting storyline of the book, in which he also joins a group of fellow people who were abducted by aliens, and also his parents think he is mentally unwell and try to medicate him but he resists pretty fiercely for a 12 year old.

Simon takes Alupent. I am not sure if this is for simplifying the storyline only involving one inhaler, as google tells me it can be used for maintenance and as a reliever, but my initial thought was: DO PEOPLE STILL USE THAT? This book is from 2019! Alupent no longer seems to exist, so I am not sure what is going on here.

Overall, I felt like asthma was woven into this storyline in a decent way. It was not the whole point, just like uh, real life, but I am also not quite sure if it was used to define the main character.

Thin Air | David Getz

Another I had not yet read, this was published in 1990, also known the year before I was born, so buckle up.

Jacob missed 40 days of school last year and his parents want to put him in a special class for chronically ill kids who miss a lot of school. After getting sick and missing the beginning of the school year, Jacob goes to school to find the teacher has told everyone about his asthma and he runs away, gets returned by the police, and is moved to another non-special class, and has an asthma attack. He gets into a fight AND, RELATABLE: then does not want to take his inhaler in front of the class... and additionally relatable, his inhaler makes him shaky. "Even his medicine is against him."

Anyways, the asthma bit of this book seems quite overblown to me.

Jacob does pull some great pranks but other than that, I am not quite sure what the purpose of this book really was.

And it turns out I misread the summary: "A sixth grader with asthma and allergies runs away from the special precautions his family and teachers are always making him take [...]".

...I was waiting for a book about Jacob running off to the wilderness despite being allergic to Central Park.

This is not that book. And, I was kind of disappointed it was not that book, to be perfectly honest. While yes, 1990 was 33 years ago, it felt like a completely different world in many ways that I am not sure seem legitimate or not! (This book is available on the Internet Archive if you want to tell me your thoughts, especially if you went to school in or around 1990, especially if that school was in New York City.)

Multi-dimensional: Books about more than asthma

The good things about 2 of these 3 books? The characters were about more than their asthma. The third? I get that his asthma was central to the weird late-80s/early-90s plot, but talk about not bothering to develop a character beyond his disease. It almost got there, but, I am curious what this book would have been like if written even 10 years later.

The Theodore Boone series, written 20 years after Thin Air, gets a bit closer. But, as long as you omit the questionability of Alupent, the closest to a fully developed, multi-dimensional character we have in these 3 books is Simon in the book about the alien abductions. Honestly, I learned a lot about alien abduction theories and thought that was pretty cool, and definitely about way more than asthma. Like it should be.

Have you read any books with characters who have asthma? What did you think about them? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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