After hiding in the bathroom to escape reading aloud in elementary school, dropping out of sixth grade for a while because of severe dyslexia and ADHD, and harboring a plan for suicide by the age of 12, Jonathan Mooney overcame his disabilities to graduate from Brown University with an honors degree in English. He imagined his resilient life as an after-school television special, but he bought a short bus instead, and traveled across the United States interviewing others with various disabilities, collecting their stories in the sometimes painful, sometimes irreverent and ever hopeful The Short Bus.
Mooney chooses the special education transport because of its oppressive symbolism to those who ride it to school, as he did as a child. Along his 35,000-mile route, he meets such disabled and different individuals as Ashley, a deaf and blind eight-year-old who curses her teachers in sign language; Katie, a young woman with Down syndrome who dreams of marrying and working in a DNA lab; and Jeff, a 40-something with Asperger's syndrome who obsessively measures his life with his calculator. Together they lead the author to question the concepts of normalcy, intelligence, community and a meaningful life. Interspersed among these poignant stories are brief discussions about the history and culture of learning disabilities.
Throughout the journey, the author reflects upon his struggles to be normal, his own prejudices about the disabled and his eventual self-acceptance. Mooney helps us see that humanity is as much about our differences as it is our common traits.
Angela Leeper is an educational consultant and writer in Wake Forest, North Carolina.