For the first time, this year’s Newbery Committee of the American Library Association chose a graphic novel for one of its honor titles. El Deafo by Cece Bell, based on her own experience – her title from the nickname she gave herself as she was growing up. For those who are afraid that graphic novels water down literature, let me ease your anxiety with answers to some questions about this book.
• Easy to read? Yes, took me about an hour for 233 pages and back matter
• Comic book style? Yes, fun and appealing to middle schoolers and any adults who haven’t lost their sense of humor
• Cartoons necessary? Definitely, pictures carry the story line as much as the narrative, similar to a good picture book
• Cartoonish subject matter? No, a very realistic progression of the ambivalent feelings and coping mechanisms as Cece progresses through school, based on the author’s real story after she is left “severely to profoundly” deaf by meningitis when she was four years old
• Light-hearted? Absolutely, sometimes in spite of and sometimes because of its subject matter, especially when Cece’s “Superpowers” enable her to hear what the teacher is saying and doing in any part of the school building
• Empathy-inducing? From the minute the reader realizes that four-year-old Cece cannot hear, through the cruel tricks of some students, and the mistakes of others who sincerely try to help and only make things worse, all the way to her experiencing true friendship
The adults of the de Grummond Book Group enjoyed a lively discussion after choosing El Deafo for their last read. [Join them at the University of Southern Mississippi in Cook Library on the second floor in the exhibit room on the third Thursday of every month at 11:30 if you like to read and discuss children’s and young adult books.]
The book should be read by those who are hearing impaired and want to find a book character who understands them and reflects their world and by those who care or need to care about any person with hearing challenges because much of Cece’s story applies at any age to misguided attempts to be helpful.
In the back matter, Cece Bell addresses the range of hearing impairment and the different ways of coping without judging any of them right or wrong. She concludes the author’s note with, “Our differences are our superpowers,” – not a bad message whether you hear well or not.