Review of Show Me a Sign

Show Me a Sign
by Ann Clare LeZotte
Intermediate, Middle School    Scholastic    288 pp.    g
3/20    978-1-338-25581-2    $18.00
e-book ed.  978-1-338-25583-6    $11.99

In 1805 Chilmark, on Martha’s Vineyard, eleven-year-old Mary Lambert’s family is grieving the death of her brother George in a horse-cart accident. In the larger picture, English-settler residents (Mary’s family among them) and the Wampanoag are on opposite sides of a land dispute, causing strife and division. But what causes not a drop of tension is the fact that a significant percent of the English population, including Mary, is Deaf, with many families having both hearing and Deaf members, so everyone is adept at sign language and no stigma is attached to deafness. The novel opens slowly, with Mary, in her direct and intelligent first-person present-tense narration, setting the scene (as well as gradually revealing her agonizing guilt over her role in George’s accident). But with the arrival from Boston of a scientist studying the causes of what he calls Deaf islanders’ “infirmity,” the pace increases, and readers find themselves immersed in a thriller, as Mary endures a violent abduction, enforced servitude, and abusive experimentation. Her eventual rescue is both nail-bitingly suspenseful and empowering, as she plays an active part in freeing herself. Everything about this novel is nuanced, from the syntax of the sign language to the discussions of island politics and history. Mary’s dramatic adventure will enthrall readers, but her internal journey — from being an uncomfortable witness to prejudice (including her mother’s toward the Wampanoag and freedmen, or former slaves), to experiencing it herself, to determining to oppose it by leading by example — is equally important, and profound.

From the September/October 2020 issue of The Horn Book Magazine.

Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano
Martha V. Parravano is book review editor of The Horn Book, Inc., and co-author of the Calling Caldecott blog.

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