“I don’t know how to describe me as a real person.”
— From “My Real Truth,” a poem by Grace Chen


“Put her away and forget about her.” This was the blunt advice Grace Chen’s grandfather gave Grace’s parents when she was born with Down syndrome.

Twenty-four years later, Grace wrote, “I always dream to be a famous writer.” When Judy McFarlane was asked to help Grace get started writing, she realized she held deep, unacknowledged fears—that Grace would be a dull-eyed young woman who couldn’t read, let alone write, that she could become agitated, even lash out. But the idea that Grace wanted to be a writer, a dream McFarlane gave up when she was young, captured McFarlane. She helped Grace edit and revise her book and travelled with Grace to give a copy of it to her grandfather.

Writing with Grace is the inspiring and informative story of the journey Grace and Judy have taken together. It relates the often dark history of Down syndrome, something the Canadian Down Syndrome Society maintains is “not a birth defect or illness” but “a naturally occurring chromosomal arrangement that has always been part of the human condition.” It tells a universal story of moving from a deep fear of the ‘other,’ to seeing the world through the eyes of the ‘other’, to Judy truly understanding when Grace says, “my real truth is too scary. I like to hide my real truth.”

With honest introspection and keen insight, McFarlane delves into what it takes to face one’s own prejudice, what it means to live a full life and believe you are worthy. From a young woman who is marginalized by society, McFarlane learns how much courage it takes to follow a dream when everyone tells you it’s impossible.


“McFarlane’s storytelling is transporting; we share Grace’s joy when she launches her book and goes on to distribute it at the World Down Syndrome Congress.”

— Julie Devaney, Quill and Quire

“[McFarlane’s] narrative is uncluttered and well paced, clear and readable. That clarity is of the kind that draws no attention to itself and seems effortless — but fellow writers will certainly recognize how hard has been the labour undergone by the author to achieve such a result.”

——Philip Marchand, The National Post

“McFarlane’s insightful prose, her willingness to examine her own prejudices, and the obvious delight she ultimately finds with Grace make McFarlane’s story a thought-provoking, inspiring one that others will want to experience”

Publishers Weekly

“This is a brave book, and McFarlane is a brave writer. She is fearless in admitting to her own long-held biases, the feelings she realizes are prejudice against those who might look ‘different.’…And really, that is what this book is about, learning to see people — not for how they look, but for who they really are.”

—Heidi Greco, The Vancouver Sun

“This is her first book. And it’s a compelling read, moving, and very instructive on what Down Syndrome is, and what life is like for those who have it, and those who have loved ones who do. It’s such a good book. It’s tough to put down.”

—Joseph Planta, The Commentary

“There is as much thinking as feeling in this clear and brilliant book—and that’s what make it so exceptional. It is also full of enlightenment at every level. One of the many deep and important questions McFarlane poses is: who is more enlightened, the needy or the needed? This book is the antidote to a culture that promotes success at all costs without ever asking what success is.”

— Ian Brown, author of The Boy in the Moon: A Father’s Search for his Disabled Son

“When Judy McFarlane met Grace Chen, she discovered a young writer with the fierce desire for creative expression she felt in herself. What transpired was a gift to both of them. Informative, absorbing, and moving, Writing with Grace is a delight.”

— Joan Thomas, author of Curiosity

“Writing with Grace is a deeply moving and breathtakingly honest exploration of one woman’s journey to understand and ultimately embrace the humanity we share with “the other” —in this case, a young writer named Grace with Down syndrome. It is also a memoir of the author’s own struggle to become a writer. McFarlane’s writing is accomplished, intimate and brimming with insight that inspires us to reexamine our attitudes towards both ourselves and those we deem to be different. The result is an evocative and inspiring book that teaches us important lessons about compassion, inclusivity and ultimately, finding the courage to overcome fear and follow our dreams.”

— Carol Shaben, author of Into the Abyss

“This is a small story, a local story, an intimate story that McFarlane, with her honesty, clarity and intelligence, opens into a narrative that will widen your world, stretch your heart, and spark your curiosity, not just for people you meet with Down Syndrome, but for everyone you meet. Writing With Grace makes you want to tear down walls and embrace life.”

— Claudia Casper, author of The Reconstruction

“This is a beautiful book about a very human story. In learning to embrace the Real Truth in the other, we learn to embrace our own Real Truth. With simple honesty, Grace and Judy have shared the Real Truth of their journey together. And if we accept it, we are challenged to make that journey our own.”

— Jean Vanier, author of Becoming Human, founder of L’Arche

Copyright Judy McFarlane © 2016