Born and raised in Indiana, Alice Wong has written a book that diverges from what one might call a “typical” memoir. However, that difference is deliberate. “I decided to write a memoir at this age—” she writes, “the age I was never supposed to reach, during a time I was never supposed to occupy” (xiii). I first heard of Wong on social media, where I quickly became one of her over 72,000 followers on Twitter. Her online community, the Disability Visibility Project, will celebrate its 10th anniversary in 2024. Given her prominence as an Asian American disability activist, Wong makes her terms clear in the memoir’s introduction: This is NOT a sad story about someone who single-handedly defeats unthinkable obstacles despite struggling with her identity as a Chinese person and/or wheelchair user. Prepare yourself instead for something entirely different.
Readers are all the more fortunate for Wong’s purposeful defiance of convention. Year of the Tiger is equal parts irreverent, funny, inspiring, and enraging, delivered through a combination of essays, artwork, and conversations—not to mention recipes, a crossword puzzle (with an answer key at the end), and an official playlist (which you can listen to here). In several essays and interviews, she recalls her shifting mobility due to muscular dystrophy, a diagnosis she received at age two, and the institutions and programs that helped or impeded her pursuit of health and independence. As a sci-fi/fantasy fan, I was especially thrilled to read her description of her birth: Entitled “A Mutant from Planet Cripton,” the essay first details her origins as a “baby alien learn[ing] the ways of the Normal” before going on to enthuse about her love of science fiction. In a later chapter, she describes her day as a robot—that is, attending a White House event via a video call on wheels.
Wong’s experiences forced her to learn to advocate for herself, leading to her work as an activist while also challenging the ableist and performative assumptions built into activism and inclusion politics. Interspersed with her reflections on the Americans with Disabilities Act (which passed halfway through her high school career in Carmel) and the Olmstead decision that labeled segregation based on disability as discrimination, Wong’s book is also filled with lightness, hope, and humor. She pokes fun at her angsty teenage phase, celebrates good food in her “Snack Manifesto,” and devotes several pages to procrastination as a creative act. I laughed at her unabashed love of sweets and all things cats; I nodded enthusiastically at her message that accessibility is a form of love.
Despite the author’s warning that she didn’t set out to inspire anyone by writing this book, it’s hard not to be galvanized by Wong’s words. Year of the Tiger offers a glimpse into how far we’ve come and how much further we have yet to go in terms of inclusivity and accessibility. And because Wong is hopeful about the future, so am I.
Leah Milne is the author of Novel Subjects: Authorship as Radical Self-Care in Multiethnic American Narratives, which won the Midwest Modern Language Association Book Award in 2021. Her op-eds have appeared in places such as The Hill, Newsweek, and Ms. Magazine. She teaches literature at the University of Indianapolis.
Alice Wong is a disabled activist, media maker and research consultant, based in San Francisco. She is the founder and director of the Disability Visibility Project, an online community dedicated to creating, sharing and amplifying disability media and culture. Alice is also the host and co-producer of the Disability Visibility podcast and co-partner in a number of collaborations such as #CripTheVote and Access Is Love. From 2013 to 2015, Alice served as a member of the National Council on Disability, an appointment by President Barack Obama. An Indiana native, Alice graduated with degrees in English and sociology from Indiana University at Indianapolis. She also has a MS in medical sociology from the University of California, San Francisco.
Monthly reviews of books written by Indiana authors are made possible by the Eugene and Marilyn Glick Indiana Authors Awards and Indiana Humanities. Opinions expressed in this review are solely those of the reviewer, not any affiliated entity.