Thursday, August 14, 2014

El Deafo by Cece Bell

When Cece is about 4 years old, doing all the fun, ordinary things kids do, she suddenly begins to feel sick.  She is diagnosed with meningitis, and must stay in the hospital while she recovers.  But then Cece begins to notice that something has changed - she isn't hearing people as well as she did before getting sick.  Then, one day, her hearing is gone.

Young Cece goes through lots of hearing tests (remember those?), and is finally fitted with a device called a Phonic Ear, a large, cumbersome receiver that must be worn around the neck, with cords that go into the ear.  Soon, it's time for Cece to begin Kindergarten, but not with the other kids.  Instead, she is sent to a school where everyone is like her and where she begins to learn regular Kindergarten stuff as well as lip reading and how to begin to navigate the world as a person with hearing loss.

The next year, Cece begins 1st grade in a regular school.  There, her teachers must wear a microphone to help Cece hear what they are saying, but, wonder of wonder, it picks up everything the teacher says and does all over the school.  The makings of the future El Deafo. Cece's superhero alter ego, have been born.

But as the reader follows Cece through elementary school, the difficulties that come with being a deaf person become clearer and clearer.  There are girls who manage to break through the bubble of isolation Cece feels, but they are kids who don't always understand that turning the volume up on the radio up doesn't help Cece hear if she can see the singers lips. There is the insensitive PE teacher who never takes into consideration that not being a good kickball player may be because Cece can't hear what people are saying to her, since she read lips and can't see them.

Life is hard, but Cece can be a bit of a brat when she wants to be, as well.  When her mother tries to get her to learn sign language, she refuses to participate in the class they take together.  She rejects signing because she is afraid it will make people stare at her, and make her feeler even weirder than she already does.  In the end, she manages to cut off her nose to spite her face.

All Cece AKA El Deafo really wants is a sidekick/best friend who just accepts her and likes her for who she is, and not what she is.  But just when she finds that friend, she loses her.  Will she ever get her sidekick/best friend.

Although this is a graphic novel, Cece Bell has more or less drawn on her own life and experience as a deaf child in a hearing world to create El Deafo.  Using humor and a light touch, Bell shows the reader the kinds of humiliation and indignities experienced by people with disabilities by both insensitive and well-meaning people.  But we also see how Cece used her imagination to cope with situations that were particularly stressful and which were probably the beginnings of her career as a writer/illustrator.

Bell has very poignantly and palpably portrayed the feelings isolation and self consciousness that she must have felt through her fictional character Cece.  Being a kid is hard enough, but being a kid with something that sets you apart can sometimes feel almost unbearable.

But before you think this graphic novel is going to be a real downer, it isn't.  It is about a girl who often uses honesty to narrate her story and shows a remarkable amount of resilience and yes, the book ends on a real note of hope.  This is now one of my favorite graphic novels and I only read the black and white ARC, I can't wait to see the full color edition, which was colored by David Lasky
From my ARC - (L) Cece with her Phonic Ear and (R) with her sidekick/friend
This is not your ordinary superhero graphic novel, but it is surely one of the best for all readers, young and old.

El Deafo will be available on September 2, 2014.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book is an ARC from the publisher

1 comment :

  1. We need a lot more books like this for children with disabilities .Brings back memories of working with a child who used one.

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