A memoir about disability and siblinghood that is honest and hilarious.
Nothing Special is a disarming tale of two sisters growing up in the 1970s in suburban Connecticut. Older sister Chris, who has Down's Syndrome, is an extrovert with a knack for getting what she wants, while the author, her younger, typically developing "Irish twin" sister, shoulders the burdens and grief of her parents. Poet, performance artist, and special needs advocate Dianne Bilyak strikes a rare balance between heartwarming and hilarious as she paints a compassionate and critical real-world picture of life with a sibling with Down's Syndrome. Throughout Nothing Special, the sisters serve as one another's friends, witnesses, rivals, and mirrors. Bilyak details wrestling with their mixed emotions in vignettes that range from poignant to laugh-out-loud funny, including anecdotes about Chris's habit of faux smoking popsicle sticks or partying through the night with her invisible friends. Bilyak skillfully discards old, pitying "they're angels" narratives to lay bare the realness and heart that only exists in truthful storytelling. Throughout their lives the sisters wrestle with tension between dependence and independence, the complexities of giving versus receiving, the pressure to live as others expect, and in the end, the wonderful liberation of self-acceptance. Nothing Special adds to the small but growing literary canon of books, such as Rachel Simon's Riding the Bus with My Sister, that detail life with a disabled sibling.