Seran Demiral's juvenile novel Fingertips, which was published in 2014, is among a handful of works focusing on disability in children's literature.
Seran Demiral's juvenile novel Fingertips, which was published in 2014, is among a handful of works focusing on disability in children's literature. Demiral surpasses the stereotypical disability narratives despite her positioning of a 'healthy' character, Işık, as her protagonist and two disabled characters, Doğan who was born with a physical deficiency, and Mert, who lost his ability later, as supporting characters. The uniqueness of Demiral's novel, and its ability to turn the stereotypes upside down, comes from the multi-dimensional characterization of Mert and Doğan, which makes them more palpable than the character with disability archetypes, and Demiral's sketching them as determining factors in the self-realization and 'completion' process of Işık adds to that.
Reading Fingertips as a Bildungsroman
Although Fingertips initially seems like a development novel (entwicklungsroman) due to its main plotline being structured around the heroes' progress from middle school to high school, it exhibits the qualities of a bildungsroman in the end with the protagonist's gaining maturity through self-discovery and a realization about what she wants. In the opening scene of the book, Işık is in front of a mirror. She meets the reader while squeezing her blackheads that she deems unbearable. With a generic reading, it can be said that this is the first reference to the discomforting nature of darkness.
Her excessive concern about the concepts of beauty and ugliness, and her looks is felt through her attitude and speech. In the end, the reader sees her in her room: "Işık is in front of the mirror with her eyes closed." (115). Because at this point of the narrative she possesses a mindset that prioritizes a question of identity; "who am I", over a question of complexion; "how do I look" (117). In this journey of awareness, her chief supporters/inspirations are her disabled friends who cannot see her and, thus, only interested in who she is. As Franco Moretti points out, by opening with the mirror scene and ending with a reference to this initial symbol, the novel allows the emergence of the identity that was aimed to be built, and becomes complete (in Mercan, 8).
Işık resolves the conflict with her stepmother Yelda in the course of her transformation. However, the problem that feeds the theme of "conflict at homes" and cannot be solved by Işık is her lack of communication with her father. At this point, it is useful to remember that her father does not approve her studying theatre and her relationship with her boyfriend. Therefore, it can be said that, in the end, Işık takes a stance against the world of men and that detail converges Fingertips to so-called women's bildungsroman. In addition to that, the novel can also be categorized as a truncated bildungsroman (in Mercan, 10). The reader does not witness Işık's dialogue with her father, and this incompleteness rules a sense of finalization out, making the novel open to commentary. Because the outcome of the aforesaid dialogue means nothing in and for the text, and what matters is Işık's dare to speak her mind, and her transformation into "that" brave girl.
As Derrida puts it, there is no way for a text to be one of a kind as the key concept here is not a sense of belonging to the genre, but a sense of involvement 'with' the genre. With respect to that, the rule of genres appears as a law of infection and impurity (206).
An effort to detect the junctions of genres in Fingertips serves the discovery of the novel's main argument and what it says to the reader. What classifies this unique piece under children's literature is its construction of the narrative universe in accordance with the laws and understanding of a child's mind added to its bildungsroman qualities. The influence of bildungsroman's self-aware, mature character considerably increases the transformative power of the text over its young readers. But what really distinguishes Fingertips from the rest of disabled fiction is its disabled characters who play definitive roles in the transformation process of its "healthy" protagonist, enriched by Işık's asserting herself as a young woman. With granting the disabled characters the maturity and a long-deserved right to speak, and positioning them as "seeing", instructive forces while positioning the protagonist as the "learner", Fingertips proves itself more profound in nature than other, stereotypical, disability narratives.
The Negative Tone and the Plot-Related Inconsistencies of Fingertips
In order to develop a thorough understanding about the novel, it is important to point the negative tone of Fingertips that banalizes its unique place among the other works of the genre and hinders its endeavor to establish a profound sense in the narrative out. Intentionally or otherwise, Demiral's narrator establishes the characters' definitions and discoveries of emotions always through negative experiences, and this, despite all the novel's positive messages and its focus on transformation, turns the narrative tone and the sentiment the reader derives from it into negative. The first instance in which Doğan, the blind character who takes his name from the birds renowned for their perfect vision, meets the reader can be read as an example of this negativity: "He was aware of their existence just as he was aware of his own, without seeing; through hearing their voices and touching them. Sometimes he was yelling at his brother, or pulling her sister's hair. This was his way of comparing the long-enough-to-be-pulled hair of Duru to his short hair." (11). Doğan's pulling her sister's hair and yelling at his brother when it is just as possible and even more beautiful for him to know his sister by caressing her hair or his brother by talking to him leaves an unpleasant sense in the reader. Considering that in the remaining part of the novel we see no sign of bad-temperedness in Doğan again, this appear not only as a problem of tone but also an element of narrative inconsistency.
Mert's overcoming of his fear of sea can be cited as another example of this concept of discovery (of an emotion) through negative experience:
In all these days he avoided the sea with a fear of danger, danger found him in the most unexpected place; the sand. He was touching grains of different size, and feeling the difference of their surfaces. (…) In such a moment, it was another creature who deemed itself the ruler of the beach, was the source of the danger: a scorpion.
That night he was rushed to hospital for an injection was only two nights before his departure. This danger that popped out of an unexpected place helped him to regain his courage and whipped his desire to swim with his eyes closed. (141-142).
Mert, who loves to swim prior to losing his sight, cannot make himself to try it during his visit to his aunt Feyza in Kaş. He starts to pass his time on the beach and even that 'secure place' he set on the beach becomes meaningless after the scorpion bites him. It is expected from a child who is afraid of the sea and gets bitten by a scorpion (as this can even be a source of trauma) to shrink away from the beach considering it 'insecure' and confine himself to indoor spaces. Therefore, it is clear that for a child who faces danger in a place he counts secure, it is unnatural, or at least hard, to develop a logic like; "If danger is everywhere, I must be more courageous to face it." In a carefully written piece of children's literature, a character must not attain 'courage' through the experience of getting bitten. It is more meaningful to create this emotional transmission through a constructive experience and offer the reader a resolution that she/he could discover and employ in her/his own world.
The excitement Işık feels when she first sees Mert gets defined not with happiness but with "exam stress" and "the sense of guilt that emerges from the disclosure of a crime". The narrator comments on Duru's desire to live with her beloved cousin as follows; "Unfortunately, the things people desire to happen rarely happen, or the thing desired happens in such a time and under such circumstances that one could resent that s/he desired it in the first place or have forgotten it altogether." (118). The narrator's pessimistic take on such a simple and childish desire bruises the sentiment passed to the reader. Likewise, the assertion that Mert's longing of Işık softens during vacation does not stand as a narrative 'must', but as an asked-for, negative detail. The examples of this negativity of the tone that makes the characters attain valuable sentiments such as courage, hope, awareness, and love through discomforting experiences in Fingertips are abundant, but this should be enough.
A Last Word
Işık's synaesthesia appears in the last quarter of the book and remains unresolved. It is possible to read this detail as the narrator's unsatisfied zeal to include a new type of awareness in the narrative. Other than that, the narrative inconsistencies that remain unmentioned here and the negativity of the tone damage the profoundness and sensitivity of Fingertips as a piece of disability fiction. Still, the influence of Işık's transformation from an ordinary adolescent who is concerned only about her blackheads and school gossip to a special individual by getting to know herself and her abilities and amassing the courage to speak with her father about her decisions on the young reader is invaluable. What distinguishes Fingertips from other examples of bildungsroman and makes it more valuable despite its linguistic negligence its accommodating this journey of discoveries with the contributions of visually impaired characters.
Demiral, Seran. Fingertips. İzmir: Tudem Publishing, 2016.
Derrida, Jacques. “The Law of Genre”, Glyph 7 (1980): 202-232.
Mercan, Evşen. “Reading Tezer Özlü's "Cold Nights of Childhood" and "Journey to the Edge of Life" as Self-
Narrated Women's Bildungsroman" Unpublished master's thesis, Boğaziçi Üniversitesi, 2009.
Ünal, Ayfer Gürdal. Disability in Turkish Children's Literature 1969-2009. İstanbul: Evrensel Publishing, 2011.