Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (9781338255812)
A deaf author writes the story of a deaf protagonist living on Martha’s Vineyard in the 19th century in a community with many deaf residents where the majority of people use sign language when they speak. Mary has never known any other place than her beloved village on Martha’s Vineyard where her deafness is not seen as a disability. Her great-grandfather came from England and settled on the island over a hundred years ago. So when a scientist intent on figuring out the cause of the deafness of the island community enters their world, he is first welcomed. Mary and her best friend decide to follow him around, since Mary has noticed him saying derogatory things about the deaf. When Mary gets too close, the scientist reveals his frightening plan of taking a “live specimen” from the island. Mary is taken to Boston, where she discovers the harshness of being a prisoner and being unable to communicate with anyone about her plight. Mary’s fight to survive and be understood speaks to what we see as disabilities even in our modern world.
This ownvoices novel is a rich glimpse into the world of the deaf community and its long history in the United States. Based on the history of Martha’s Vineyard, the author’s note mentions how she recreated the sign language used on the island which is no longer in use. Her care with acknowledging the land issues between the white settlers and the native tribes of the island is evident on the page. She offers detailed accounts of the community itself, giving a deep understanding to the reader of the warmth, love and acceptance of the community. That is then shown in stark contrast with the reactions of the rest of the world.
The writing is frank and clear. The author speaks about how she comes at English from a different angle, both as a deaf person and being bilingual. She also shares in sign language conversations some direct translations that allow hearing readers to better understand how conversations flow in that language. The characters are all seen through Mary’s eyes, including her parents. Mary shines at the center of the novel, her experiences and perceptions make up the story, which at times is incredibly difficult to read as Mary is abused and veers towards despair of ever seeing her family again.
This historical novel is both important and impressive. Appropriate for ages 9-12.
Reviewed from ARC provided by Scholastic.