"The Oracle Code" Shows How Disability and Heroism Aren’t Mutually Exclusive

The cover of "The Oracle Code." It states the title, the author of the book, Marieke Nijkamp, and the illustrator, Manuel Preitano. There is an illustration of a girl in a wheelchair. She is wearing a jacket and has red hair.

In a new graphic novel by Marieke Nijkamp, disability and superheroes coexist in a mysterious tale about Barbara Gordon and her rehabilitation in Arkham Center for Independence. 


 #1 New York Times bestselling author Marieke Nijkamp and artist Manuel Preitano unveil a graphic novel that explores the dark corridors of Barbara Gordon’s first mystery: herself.


After a gunshot leaves her paralyzed below the waist, Barbara Gordon undergoes physical and mental rehabilitation at the Arkham Center for Independence. She must adapt to a new normal, but she cannot shake the feeling that something is dangerously amiss. Strange sounds escape at night while patients start to go missing.


Is this suspicion simply a result of her trauma? Or does Barbara actually hear voices coming from the center’s labyrinthine hallways? It’s up to her to put the pieces together to solve the mysteries behind the walls.


In The Oracle Code, universal truths cannot be escaped, and Barbara Gordon must battle the phantoms of her past before they consume her future.


The Oracle Code comes out March 10th, 2020, anywhere books are sold.


We here at the Longmore Institute got the chance to ask Marieke Nijkamp some questions about The Oracle Code. See our Q&A below:

1) What’s an important aspect of this book that you’d like your readers to know?

The Oracle Code is my love letter to Barbara Gordon. To storytelling. To disabled readers. And with all of Manuel’s amazing art: a love letter to geekdom too. (Seriously there are so many amazing details that make the world come to life. I have a desperate need for all of the t-shirts in this book.)

2) Can you speak to the specific audience(s) that you had in mind when creating this work?

The Oracle Code is a book for readers who like superhero stories and puzzles and mysteries. It’s a book for readers who like stories about identity and finding yourself.

And in many ways, it’s a book for disabled readers. Disability is the norm in this book. Most of the characters on the page are disabled. It isn’t written for inspiration and neither is it written as a challenge to overcome. It simply meant to be the world we live in. (And if stories can feature all non-disabled casts, why shouldn’t it be the other way around too?)

But for those exact same reasons, it’s also a book for non-disabled readers. Because this is the world you live in, too.

3) Many superhero books feature a trope of main character becoming disabled and then gaining powers to “go beyond” disability - this character reworks that trope. Would you like to say more about that?

This was something I very consciously wanted to avoid while writing Babs’s story. Babs isn’t a hero in spite of her disability. She isn’t a hero because a disability gives her superpowers. She’s disabled and she is a hero. Those two aren’t mutually exclusive.

In fact, I think it’s far more powerful to explore both disability and heroism—or even simply: agency—at the same time, exactly because the two are so often juxtaposed. After all, claiming disabled people need special powers to be worthwhile is both unrealistic and harmful. None of us get powers to beyond our disabilities. Not everyone would even want to have those powers. Our worth lies in exactly who we are—and yes, we get to be heroes.

4) Can you speak to or elaborate at all about the intersection between your experience with disability and the main character’s?

Like Babs, I am disabled. Unlike Babs, my disabilities aren’t acquired but congenital. (hEDS, among others.) Unlike Babs, I don’t use a wheelchair, though I have done so on occasion. I use a cane. I use splints and braces.

Like Babs, I spent a year in a medical rehabilitation center in my teens, and a lot of that experience informed this story. Though I should point out, my experience wasn’t nearly as dramatic and mysterious as Babs’s! No creepy portraits on the walls, no disappearing patients, no sinister whispers in the middle of the night. But I struggled with making friends at first. With anger and grief. I also had to learn to find my way back.

5) At one point the main character, Barbara “Babs” Gordon, has a very open, and straightforward conversation with a friend, would you say more about your intention with that scene, which I read as a really bright moment of self-advocacy and boundary-defining?

An important part of this book is Babs’s journey to come to grips with who she is and who she can be. She had all these plans and expectations from life, and when she gets shot she feels like she lost them. She has to rebuild herself and that conversation is very much a key moment in the whole process. It’s the first time she explicitly states her boundaries and what she expects from the person in front of her. In doing so, it helps her realize what she needs from herself too.

6) Throughout the book, the phrase “fix it” appears, can you tell us more about your use of this phrase in relation to disability and ableism?

I’m physically disabled. I’m also autistic. As a result, I’ve had very many very well-meaning conversations with non-disabled people who are adamant that surely all I must want from life is a cure, is a way to “fix” me, to make me whole. (And the subtext of that often is: a way to make me a valuable, normal human being.)

A lot of that is ignorance. A desire to help, stemming from a flawed, ableist perception of what it means to be human, as defined by non-disabled people. To me power, self-acceptance, agency lie in simply stating this: we are who we are, we deserve to be able to equally participate in society, we deserve access to inclusive healthcare, we have the right to self-determination. We don’t need to be fixed.

The Oracle Code

Written by Marieke Nijkamp

Illustrated by Manuel Prietano

On sale everywhere books are sold on 3/10/2020

MSRP: $16.99

 A picture of Marieke Nijkamp. She is looking at the camera and smiling. She has short, bright blue and pink hair, is wearing glasses, and is wearing a necklace.


About Marieke Nijkamp:

Marieke Nijkamp is the #1 New York Times bestselling author of This is Where It Ends and Before I Let Go and the editor of the YA anthology Unbroken: 13 Stories Starring Disabled Teens. She is a storyteller, dreamer, globe-trotter, and geek. She resides in the Netherlands.