Actress, presenter and disability activist Samantha Renke – who is a wheelchair user and lives with brittle bone disease – has published her autobiography You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread, in which she shares the highs and lows of living with a disability.
Our writer, Raya Al-Jadir, got the opportunity to get a first look at the book and gives her thoughts on Samantha Renke’s powerful, honest and humourous storytelling of her complex and fulfilling life.
“Life – in all its messy uncertainty – is a beautiful thing.“ A quote that perfectly summaries Samantha Renke’s new book, You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread. She shares her life story and struggles in the most organic and raw way, not shying away from any personal detail and cracking a joke at every chance she gets within the book.
Samantha’s book is a true reflection of life – the ups and downs, the bright and dark side, the highs and lows – yet in every situation there is a unique beauty.
Who is Samantha Renke?
Anyone within the disability field knows who Samantha Renke is, but if you haven’t heard of her, you are missing out.
She is an actress, presenter, disability activist, inclusion and equality consultant and keynote speaker. She was named the third most powerful figure in The Shaw Trust Disability Power 100 list in 2020.
She is a columnist for the Metro and has written a multitude of articles on what it is like to be disabled in a disabling world. She has even appeared alongside Boy George in a music video and stared in a Malteasers advert.
Podcast interview with Sam Renke
After reading the book, I got the opportunity to talk to Sam about her experience of writing it and about the life she has so openly shared in it.
Raya’s book review of You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread
Regardless of whether you are disabled or non-disabled, You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread is a book that you’re likely to connect with.
Every chapter deals with a topic that many would identify with – from bullying to anxiety to self-belief and isolation. These are all aspects of life that everyone goes through at some stage.
Challenging the status quo
From the very first page of the book, you’ll be struck by Samantha’s honesty as she discusses intimate and personal details, her vulnerability and her struggle with anxiety and depression.
Samantha’s journey as a disabled woman to accepting her body and identity will resonate with many, especially disabled people who are often encouraged by society to dismiss their struggles because its “negative”.
When you are disabled, there seems to be an unwritten law that you must not show your low points.
Samantha addresses this unhealthy trend by saying; “I guess that’s where the phrase ‘to suffer in silence’ originates. We are fooled into thinking that what makes us human – our flaws, our thoughts and behaviours, our heartaches, our failures, and our abject insecurity – are things to keep hush-hush.”
This, in my personal view, is one of the book’s strongest aspects. It challenges the status quo and acknowledges the fact that no one has a perfect life or is flawless, and talks about how facing our struggle is a strength in itself.
The story of all disabled people
From a disabled person’s perspective, this memoir is the story of almost every disabled person who has had their confidence shattered from a young age by teachers who put them down and discourage them from aiming high.
It’s the story of every disabled teenager who dislikes their disability or is associated with disabled people due to the ableist attitude that they are surrounded by and the indirect bullying that makes them question their worth.
It’s the story of every young disabled adult who wants to love and be loved but is met with rejection and an inaccessible world – not just infrastructure but the minds of people too.
In one of my favourite passages, Samantha writes: “It’s an odd feeling living in an environment that isn’t designed for you. I often equate living in a disabling world with being a child standing outside a candy store – you can see all the wonders the shop has to offer but you can’t get past the glass pane. There is an air of cruelty about it.”
It is a quote that might make the reader slightly sad but it’s a truth that needs to be told, addressed and changed. We live in an age of “toxic positivity” and if we don’t talk about the difficult aspects of life, how can we change it and make it better for the next generation?
Society regards disabled people as exhibits
Another truth that Samantha openly talks about is the way that society regards disabled people as exhibits, where they have the given right to gawp at and examine us in such an intrusive manner. Sadly, this is something that accompanies you for life.
“It’s an odd thing to think that I’ve never known life without people staring. As a kid, it was mostly followed up by an ‘ah, bless’, or some kind of free gift – sweets, a crusty teddy bear from a charity box, or a good old pat on the head. Kindness wrapped up in a pity bow.
As I grew older, the looks would be less patronising and more intrusive. Malicious at times. Intended to make me feel ugly. A freak. Abnormal. Different.”
How beautiful life can be living with a disability
The book addresses all the obstacles, challenges and discrimination that disabled people face on a daily basis. But at the same time, it also gives the reader a glimpse of how beautiful life can be living with a disability if the world was more inclusive and accepting of others.
“You need to follow your heart and say yes to the opportunities that come along. Be bold, be brave and chase that rainbow!”
Samantha Renke’s vulnerable thoughts
One of the most admiring aspects is the way Samantha discusses her most vulnerable thoughts, something most disabled people share with her, especially disabled women, yet shy away from acknowledging: “I’ve never simply been someone’s number one. Sometimes, just sometimes, that makes me rather sad.”
Samantha, like any other person in this world, wants to have a partner, be a mother, and have so many things that often exclude disabled people simply because of the ableist attitude that dominates our society.
Giving honesty, motivation and hope
You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread gives the reader a very clear and honest view of living with a disability. If you have a disability, it will give you the motivation and hope to push for change in this world and assist you when you are at your lowest.
“The best thing you can ever do is invest in yourself. Own it. Own your identity. Your uniqueness. Your insecurities. Your strengths. Recognise that what you bring is wonderful and you can find an inner peace and a sense of worth in a world that can at times seem like it’s spiralling out of control.”
I have given You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread 9/10.
You can buy You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread on Amazon.
Keep your eyes peeled for our video interview with Samantha Renke about her book coming soon…
Disability Horizons Book Club
If you love reading books and are looking for a friendly community to discuss and review a collection of titles from disabled and non-disabled authors, then come join our virtual book club.
Our next session will take place on Sunday 28th August 2022 at 3pm, where we will be discussing You Are The Best Thing Since Sliced Bread.
If you would like to join, please email Raya at firstname.lastname@example.org and she will send you the Zoom link.
By Raya Al-Jadir
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