El Deafo

by Rebecca J on 2015-02-11

Last week, the Newbery Medal winners for 2015 were announced. One of the Newbery Honor selections was El Deafo by Cece Bell. Hereʼs what the Newbery committee had to say about this book:

In this insightful and humorous graphic novel memoir, Cece Bell portrays growing up with a giant hearing aid strapped to her chest. Themes of navigating a new school, sleepovers, finding a true friend and a first crush make this book universal in appeal. Bell shows that our differences are gifts that “can be turned into something amazing.”

So, naturally, this book sounded interesting to me. I was able to snag a copy on Monday and just finished it this morning. And boy, did this book blow me away. As I read it, I kept thinking, “Yes. Yes. And yes again. YES.”

Itʼs a graphic novel about a little girl who loses her hearing at 4 and learns to navigate the hearing world, particularly elementary school, while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to her chest. The book is set in the early 1970s, long before behind-the-ear hearing aid technology was where it is today and long before cochlear implants were even a viable option for the hearing impaired. Sheʼs pretty much a contemporary of mine.

So many experiences of hers resonated with me. Wearing a hearing aid strapped to the chest. Killing it at lipreading. Choosing to watch TV instead of playing with other kids because itʼs too hard to keep up with the conversation. Being terrible at PE and sports in general. Trying to fit in and always feeling different. Wishing for a friend that doesnʼt make a big deal about hearing aids. Using the hearing aid-microphone combo to spy on the teacher in the bathroom. All of these could be taken from my story.

I recommend this to anyone who would like to better understand what it feels like to be a hearing impaired kid, with all of the insecurity, brief moments of courage, and just the ever-present awareness of being different. This would also be a good read for parents of hearing impaired children. I just wish Iʼd had this book to read when I was younger. So, go read it and then if you like, tell me what you thought of it.