I was sent a book called Sensitive by Allayne Webster – published by UQP. It’s a book I wish Little Carly had. I devoured it in a day.
SJ wants to reinvent herself in a new town, changing her name. But she can’t change her skin.
Sensitive is a young adult fiction book about a girl – SJ – with severe eczema and allergies. SJ has all the challenges of becoming a teenager, plus living with skin that she just wants to hide.
I found Sensitive very relatable to my own experience with ichthyosis. The overheating, itching, wanting to cover up, the embarrassing stuff like brushing skin from the bed, the severity of some treatments compared to the skin condition itself, and infection risks, plus the emotional impacts of both medical aspects and of others’ reactions to a visible difference.
There’s quite a bit of internalised ableism in the book, and also eating disorder discussion and an overwhelmingly overbearing mother who wants to fix SJ to fix herself. As I’ve written previously, my parents did want to find me cures, but gave up when I said enough. I see the cure search so frequently in parents of kids with ichthyosis – desperate and guilty for passing on a genetic illness.
I thought the themes of jealousy in others with “good” skin were really important – it is easy to fall into the comparison trap when living with a severe skin condition, and often a competition of who has it worse.
There’s can also be a denial of similar experience when meeting people with different impairments, and I liked SJ’s new best friend Livvy introducing her to Livvy’s overweight mother, which showed SJ that people with visible differences do experience very similar barriers and feelings about our bodies. I also liked that SJ developed a friendship with another young person in hospital – that happened to me many times.
I highly recommend Sensitive for young people (maybe 13+) and adults with Ichthyosis, and parents too. Some of the themes were a bit confronting for me, bringing up memories from the past so I suggest setting aside some time to talk about the book with someone. I have recommended it to the Australian and New Zealand Ichthyosis support group.
Allayne Webster lives with severe eczema and life threatening allergies, and while this is fiction, it’s autobiographical. The epilogue is a personal account of Allayne’s struggles with eczema and allergies. Own voices are so important.
I am not sure whether the girl on the cover looks like a young Allayne. Maybe it does, and maybe Little Allayne’s face was not affected (but SJ’s account of her eczema and allergies in the book suggest it was). I really would have liked to see Sensitive have a different cover – one that represented a young person with severe eczema and allergies. This cover showed beauty privilege. A girl with a face impacted by eczema and allergies would really allow Little Carly and other young people with severe skin conditions and allergies to see themselves on shelves.
Thanks for writing this important book, Allayne. I would love to have an in-conversation event with you one day.
This post is not sponsored, but I was given the book for free by University of Queensland Press – thanks! There are affiliate links in this post. I believe it’s so important for disabled people to review their peers’ books, which is why I’m doing so publicly.