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The Short Bus

A Journey Beyond Normal

Jonathan Mooney

Holt Paperbacks

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ISBN10: 0805088040
ISBN13: 9780805088045

Trade Paperback

288 Pages



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Labeled "dyslexic and profoundly learning disabled with attention and behavior problems," Jonathan Mooney was a short bus rider—a derogatory term used for kids in special education and a distinction that told the world he wasn't "normal." Along with other kids with special challenges, he grew up hearing himself denigrated daily. Ultimately, Mooney surprised skeptics by graduating with honors from Brown University. But he could never escape his past, so he hit the road. To free himself and to learn how others had moved beyond labels, he created an epic journey. He would buy his own short bus and set out cross-country, looking for kids who had dreamed up magical, beautiful ways to overcome the obstacles that separated them from the so-called normal world.

In The Short Bus, his humorous, irreverent, and poignant record of this odyssey, Mooney describes his four-month, 35,000-mile journey across borders that most people never see. He meets thirteen people in thirteen states, including an eight-year-old deaf and blind girl who likes to curse out her teachers in sign language. Then there's Butch Anthony, who grew up severely learning disabled but who is now the proud owner of the Museum of Wonder. These people teach Mooney that there's no such thing as normal and that to really live, every person must find their own special ways of keeping on. The Short Bus is a unique gem, propelled by Mooney's heart, humor, and outrageous rebellions.


Praise for The Short Bus

"What makes this journey so inspiring is Mooney's transcendent humor; the self he has become does not turn away from old pain but can laugh at it, make it into something beautiful."—Susan Reynolds, Los Angeles Times

"By the end of The Short Bus, Mooney will have you wondering just where the deficits lie: with kids so labeled or the labelers themselves . . . Although many of those recollections are sad and discomfiting, Mooney uses self-depreciating humor to diffuse anything that smacks of a pity party. Most important, he celebrates the immense diversity of human minds, reminding us that there is much to learned from those who make their home somewhere beyond ‘normal.'"—Carole Goldberg, Newsday

"Author Jonathan Mooney buys and retools an old, short school bus—the symbol of special education in America—and drives it around the country for four months, seeking out people who are disabled or diagnosed or labeled with some sort of academic or social difficulty. The resulting book combines the story of a raucous road trip and a more serious look at how Americans view those of us who are different."—Bill Lohmann, Richmond Times-Dispatch

"By the end of this provocative, even radical book, he'll have you wondering just where the deficits lie: with kids so labeled, or the labelers themselves . . . Mooney packs a lot into his long trip on the short bus . . . He pilots the short bus across America, with us as passengers, to visit men and women who do not, cannot and will never ‘fit in,' and are all the more talented, frustrated and fascinating because of the far-from-ordinary ways their brains work."—Carole Goldberg, The Hartford Courant

"In this wonderful memoir, John Mooney charts his passage out of ableism and saneism. Along the way, he teaches us the possibility of joining him in a state of mind beyond the binaries of the normal and the pathological."—Bradley Lewis, MD, PhD, Gallatin School of Individualized Study, New York University

"Many kids with physical, mental, and learning disabilities have ridden the 'short bus' to special-education classes, signaling that they were different, singled out, not 'normal.' Mooney was one of those short bus children who hated school because he was dyslexic and couldn't read until he was 12. In 2003, a few years after he graduated from Brown University, he cowrote a book on learning disabilities and began a career of public speaking on the subject. Then he set out on a journey. He bought an old short bus and traveled from Los Angeles to Maine to Washington and back to L.A., stopping to visit with various people who were also not 'normal.' Along the way, he confronted his own preconceptions and assumptions about people with autism, Down syndrome, deafness and blindness, ADHD, and other so-called disabilities. In this book, he deals with the question of 'What is normal?' This is a story about a young man coming to accept himself, but also a cautionary tale about what happens in schools, in the workplace, and in society when people fail to recognize that everyone is normal, just in different ways. Mooney is an engaging writer with a sense of humor about his own failings, and his story is an entertaining and enlightening one."—Sarah Flowers, Santa Clara County Library, California, School Library Journal

"Jonathan Mooney is an uplifting, rebellious voice who will strike a chord with anyone who has ever had a hard time marching in step in a culture of conformity. His book is not just about how Jon found personal success after growing up with severe learning differences (dyslexia and ADHD), it's the story of his journey to accept himself by finding others labeled "disabled" or "not normal" who have survived and even triumphed. In person, in his amazing speeches around the country, Jonathan speaks with heart, spirit and energy, helping audiences re-imagine their lives. He does this same thing in his remarkable, magical book. Get on the short bus and fasten your seat belts. No matter who you are, you won't be the same at the end of this ride."—Edward M. Hallowell M.D., author of Delivered from Distraction: Getting the Most Out of Life with Attention Deficit Disorder

"Curious and compassionate, clearheaded and self-questioning, enlightened and illuminating, Jonathan Mooney takes us on a modern yet timeless odyssey. In his drive across America, he steers us past his own painful memories, through the history of disabilities, and into the lives of people who refuse to be oppressed. A long overdue tribute to our brothers and sisters on the short bus, and a desperately needed battle cry against the tyranny of normalcy."—Rachel Simon, author of Riding the Bus with My Sister

"Hop on board The Short Bus with Jonathan Mooney to experience a one of a kind ride. Purposefully taking readers far beyond the limits of 'normalcy,' he drives deep into the heart of human existence—asking us where do we truly stand in our acceptance of diversity? As the informative, insightful, and irreverent guide of the tour, Mooney bares his soul and his ass in equal measure. Passing through the unpredictable landscape, we encounter the often disarming beauty of human difference embodied in the everyday lives of (extra)ordinary people who—by their very existence—shatter the ideals of 'mainstream' America. Ultimately, The Short Bus is a true celebration of survival and diversity."—Dr. David J. Connor, Co-author of Reading Resistance

"The Short Bus is a must-read account of a subversive journey through the heartland of normalcy. Mooney's trip is like Steinbeck's Travels with Charley or Kerouac's On the Road, only his subjects are a colorful gaggle of people with learning disabilities who share a refreshing irreverence towards the received ideas of a therapeutic society. Mooney writes with a strong power of observation and a refreshing writing style that makes you understand how good a writer a card-carrying dyslexic can be. Anyone interested in America, disability, or the pleasures of being alive should read this work."—Lennard Davis, author of Enforcing Normalcy

"This book should be required reading for anyone who thinks they are in the business of 'helping' or 'serving' people with disabilities. Mooney understands the power that comes when disabled children and adults claim their identity, reject social constructs of what is normal, and define success on their own terms. By journeying beyond normal, Mooney shows the way to a more human, more interesting destination that can transform the field of education, lay bare the shortcomings of the helping professions, and help disabled people get in touch with their own power."—Andrew Imparato, President and CEO, American Association of People with Disabilities

"The Short Bus should be tucked into the back of every short bus seat as a treat. And it should be required reading for every PTA, every school board, and every person involved with kids in any way."—Josh Blue, Card-carrying member of the Freak Club

"The view from The Short Bus is candid, irreverent and eye opening. Mooney takes us On the Road, asking what happens when you stop chasing the horizon of normalcy and start reveling in your differences."—Harold S. Koplewicz, M.D., Chairman, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, NYU School of Medicine, Author of Moore than Moody and It's Nobody's Fault

"Ride Jonathan Mooney's The Short Bus and you will be changed. With captivating storytelling, Mooney kidnaps the reader away from ‘normal' for a journey that is hilarious, heartbreaking, and ultimately liberating. Anyone has had to deal with the ill fitted suit of 'normalcy' in their coming-of-age will recognize the struggles in these stories—and as it turns out that means every one of us! The Short Bus gives us a whole new way to understand all young people, and to support the genius of difference in our communities."—Michael Patrick MacDonald, author of All Souls and Easter Rising

"An advocate for the rights of people with learning, physical or emotional disabilities takes a road trip in the vehicle that symbolizes the way we segregate those who are different. Labeled as learning disabled in the third grade (he had attention deficit disorder and dyslexia), Mooney grew up riding the 'short school bus . . . once used to take kids with disabilities to special ed programs.' He was a special-ed success story: Though unable to read until age 12, he later graduated with honors in English from Brown University. But he didn't want to be seen as someone who had 'overcome' his disability and become 'normal'; he traveled cross-country in one of those little yellow buses to declare his solidarity with members of the minority who ride in them and to offer some lessons for the rest of us. Learning disabled Brent lobbed paintballs at him in Albuquerque; deaf-blind Ashley cussed him out in sign language in Richmond. He met Cookie, a big guy who wore a blonde wig and a pink robe; sweet Katie, who had Down syndrome; bipolar Sara; and Asperger Jeff. All, Mooney insists, are singular people . . . As well as describing trips to Graceland and Burning Man, Mooney provides some social history of the efforts through eugenics and pseudoscience to 'fix' or to set apart people who may be different. No one is precisely normal, he reminds us; that's a statistical concept and a social construct . . . This offers a heartfelt rebuke to rigid definitions of normality."—Kirkus Reviews

Reviews from Goodreads


Read an Excerpt

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About the author

Jonathan Mooney

Jonathan Mooney graduated from Brown University with an honors degree in English. A recipient of the Truman Fellowship for graduate study in creative writing and disability studies, he is also the co-author of Learning Outside the Lines.

Chris Mueller

Jonathan Mooney

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