Review of El Deafo

eldeafostar2 El Deafo
by Cece Bell; illus. by the author; 
color by David Lasky
Intermediate, Middle School    Amulet/Abrams    242 pp.
9/14    978-1-4197-1020-9    $21.95
Paper ed.  978-1-4197-1217-3    $10.95

At the age of four, in 1975, Bell contracted meningitis, leaving her severely to profoundly deaf. In this characterful, vivid, often amusing graphic-novel memoir she recaptures the experiences of her childhood — adapting to deafness, to others’ attitudes toward it, and to the technology of the Phonic Ear, a cumbersome assistive device. At the heart of her story is an experience relevant to most children: the finding of the “True Friend,” a falling out, and a reunion. Bell combines great humor and charm (her characters are all anthropomorphized bunnies) with emotional complexity and seriousness; her depiction of Cece’s valiant struggles with loneliness, irritation, and embarrassment at the way people treat her is moving, utterly convincing, and authentic — never “poor bunny.” Her forthright humor works especially well in conveying the practicalities of Cece’s mode of communication: “I sure can’t lip-read a butt!” she says, looking at a speaker’s back. This memoir is thus exceptionally informative and entertaining in relation to some aspects of deaf communication, but, most centrally and powerfully, it is exceptional for its perceptive, indomitable protagonist and complex story of friendship, growth, and classroom and family dynamics.

From the November/December 2014 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre Baker
Deirdre F. Baker, a reviewer for The Horn Book Magazine and the Toronto Star, teaches children’s literature at the University of Toronto. The author of Becca at Sea (Groundwood), she is currently at work on a sequel—written in the past tense.

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