Sunday, August 1, 2021

MMGM: Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte

Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte
Scholastic, 2020, 288 pages
It's 1805 and Mary Lambert, 11 is living in a thriving if somewhat isolated town called Chilmark on Martha's Vineyard with her parents. Many of the people on the island are born deaf, as is Mary and her father, and the islanders have developed their own sign language that everyone uses on a regular basis whether or not they are deaf. It feels like a safe, protective community to Mary and she freely moves about that part of the island. 

Into this close knit community comes a scientist named Andrew Noble to study the people and to try to determine why there are so many deaf people. Noble doesn't have much respect for the deaf and treats them as though they were intellectually impaired, never speaking to them even though they are able to lip read (of course, Noble never made the slightest effort to learn their sign language). 

What Noble really wants is a living "specimen" to take back to Boston to study. One day he finds Mary alone on the beach and violently kidnaps her. After a horrible five day journey, the two of them reach Boston, and Mary discovers that away from Martha's Vineyard, deaf people are treated quite harshly and are considered to be dimwitted. Noble is quite abusive to Mary, but she is determined to escape and return home. Eventually, after some terrible adventures in Boston, Mary is rescued by a mysterious sailor. 

This is a riveting work of historical fiction based on a true story and the deaf community on Martha's Island is something I had never heard of before. Some of the issues and attitudes around disabilities did feel a little modern to me, but it didn't make the story feel forced, nor did it diminish the story's basic message. It also doesn't mean that these issues and attitudes weren't relevant or thought about 200 years ago. There is a parallel though less developed story about the early white settlers, including Mary's great grandfather, who colonized the island taking the land away from the Wampanoag and how their descendants are continuing to take more and more land from the Native Americans on Martha's Vineyard.   
A few years ago, I read a book by Ann Clare LeZotte called T4, a novel written in free verse about the Nazis' unthinkable Aktion 4 policy of euthanizing disable people. So. I was a little surprised to find myself somewhat reluctant to read this novel at first, even though it was only the cover that turned me off to it (I know, never judge a book by its cover, but sadly, we do). Then, as a Second Round judge, I read Show Me a Sign for the 2020 Middle Grade Fiction Cybils award at the beginning of 2021, and while it turned out that I liked it very much, in fact, I couldn't put it down and read it in one sitting, I never wrote about it here on Randomly Reading. So when I read that the sequel, Set Me Free, is due out September 21, 2021, I decided to reread Show Me a Sign and it proved to be every bit as engrossing and exciting as the first time I read it. 

I wish there had been a teacher's guide available from Scholastic for this novel because there is so much that could be unpacked and explored in it. Luckily, there are lots of other resources on the internet and in the library for anyone who wants to know more. 

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was borrowed from the NYPL
Be sure to check out the other Marvelous Middle Grade Monday offerings, 
now being carried on by Greg at Always in the Middle


  1. Wow—I've seen this book before, but I don't think I registered how impactful of a story it seems to be! I'm horrified that it's based on a true story, but I suppose I'm not that surprised, unfortunately. This seems like a very sensitively done story about deafness, and I appreciate some of the discussion about the colonization too—neither of those topics are ones I have encountered much in books, so I might pick this book up and learn a thing or two! Thanks so much for the thoughtful review!

  2. Thanks for the review and highlighting a history I had not read about before. My library has it available so I'm going to give it a go, especially with the sequel coming out next month. Great feature for MMGM.

  3. Yes, wow! This sounds like an incredibly important story. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Wow! This sounds like an important story to read. Thanks for sharing it this week.

  5. This DOES sound like an important story. I’m intrigued by most historical MG so I’ll definitely look this up!

  6. Thanks for the review. I hadn't heard of this book, and I think it is one I should read as soon as I can.


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