I read this book right after it came out, and picked it up again just recently after seeing one of my friend’s daughters toting it about. Normally I don’t a like a book as much the second time around, but I am delighted to say that I loved El Deafo just as much on round two! Funny, heartfelt, and beautifully written and drawn this graphic novel is one that will appeal to parents and children alike.
Title: El Deafo
Author: Cece Bell
Publisher: Amulet Books
Publication Date: September 2, 2014
Genre: YA Fiction, Fiction, Comics and Graphic Novels, Memoir, Autobiography
Themes: Friendship, School, Family, Self Acceptance, Deafness
My Rating: 5/ 5
Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.
Where do I begin? I LOVED everything about this graphic novel from being semi autobiographical to the difficulties of friendship in the face of being different, from the arrangement of the panels to the bold and almost innocent nature of the artwork. My inner librarian screams absolute triumph when I see children with this book in their hands because it is absolutely wonderful to see younger souls taking an interest in memoirs, but more importantly it is amazing to see that a memoir has been created that appeals to children. And when all of the elements of this book come together they create a story that can be enjoyed by children and adults alike.
I must mention though that I relate to Bell’s narrative on a personal level as my mother is hard of hearing and came to be so later in life. As a child it was confusing to watch how friends and acquaintances changed their treatment of my mother despite knowing who she was as a person before her viral infection. The simple misinterpretations, forced/ bad sign language, and even isolation were all spot on! I think too, that it is important to acknowledge that acts of isolation can be innocent misunderstandings. Bell’s graphic novel does a beautiful job of capturing these moments and really encourages readers to consider situations beyond the self, and to think more deeply about how actions might impact others as well as what might have been the motivation behind them.
When considering a younger audience, I think that this text is perfect for teaching social interaction and helping to understand factors in group dynamics. Tt does a wonderful job depicting bullying, peer pressure, and the ins and outs of school atmospheres. There is so much that can be related to that El Deafo is sure to appeal to wide audience, and has much to offer older readers as well. I love that Cece is real, that her reactions are plausible, and that the character is both honest and vulnerable. What’s more though, is the emphasis placed on finding one good friend and finding your inner super hero to get through the tough spots – we all need one of those every now and then!
Finally, I can’t review a graphic novel without touching on the art. At first I was little disappointed in overly simplistic nature of the panels, and dare I say even bored. But, in time I really grew to appreciated how everything worked together. The simple cartoon-like drawings, block colours, and animalistic characters really brought out the innocent nature of the narrative. At the same time, the lack of detail and human characteristics beyond emotions and actions really worked to make the characters more relatable and universal. Panel composition was clear and easy to follow, even for those who are new to the genre, and just enough closure takes place in the gutters to ignite the imagination. Also, I really loved the representations of sound in visual mediums – from the way words were broken down to represent speech patterns, text was faded or bolded to show malfunction with the phonic ear, and even everyday sounds – all created a reading experience where you could imagine both hearing and feeling just as Cece might. Whatever initial misgivings I might have had have since been completely dispelled!
Would I recommend this book? In a heart beat! Buy it, borrow it, take it out from the library – and be sure to share it with friends and family along the way. I look forward to seeing not only more of Bell’s work, but also some more graphic memoirs that kids can’t wait to sink their teeth into!