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Monday, October 19, 2020

MG Deafness Novel Illuminating and Compelling

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

"Deafness is not an affliction.  The only thing it stops me from doing is hearing" (95).

In Mary Lambert's community on Martha's Vineyard, 1 in 4 residents is Deaf.  Everyone—those who can hear and those who cannot—uses the town's sign language to communicate with each other.  In 1805 Chilmark, Deafness is not odd or other.  It just is.  Eleven-year-old Mary has never felt different or lesser because of her inability to hear.  Until things start to change in her world.  

When Mary's older brother dies in a tragic accident, Mary's grief is compounded by her guilt.  She knows in her broken heart that she caused his death.  Then, a scientist from Connecticut shows up in Chilmark eager to study its unique "affliction."  Although other Deaf residents are willing to be studied, Mary has no desire to become anyone's "live specimen."  When she becomes one by force, she will learn a hard lesson about how Deaf people are treated outside of Chilmark.  Can she escape back to her beloved island?  Or is Mary doomed to endure a life of servitude, humiliation, and abuse, all because she was born without being able to hear? 

Show Me a Sign, a middle-grade novel by Deaf librarian Ann Clare LeZotte, is both fascinating and eye-opening.  It's set in a real community, where during the 19th Century Deaf and hearing people intermingled every day, using their own brand of sign language to communicate.  Mary's story starts off slowly but the action soon picks up, making for an exciting and compelling tale.  Not only does the book explore what it means to be Deaf, especially in a time and place where the condition wasn't understood, but it also teaches some important lessons about ableism, racism (LeZotte draws a not-so subtle parallel between the mistreatment of the Wampanoag people and that of the Deaf), empathy, and standing up for one's self.  I don't know how appealing this one will be to young readers, but I found it engaging, illuminating, and thought-provoking.  

(Readalikes:  Reminds me of El Deafo by Cece Bell and Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly)


If this were a movie, it would be rated:

for violence, scenes of peril, and scary situations

To the FTC, with love:  Another library fine find


  1. Well, I just learned something really interesting today. Thank you for that. I never heard of this community, and the story sounds wonderful too.

  2. What an interesting town; I hadn't heard of it before. Sounds like a really good story that is quite different from much that we read.

  3. I know nothing about this but this sounds fascinating and heartbreaking. I love finding out about something I really knew nothing about it.


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