5 Must-Read Books with Deaf Characters

 

Ever since I watched Why Not Theatre’s excellent ASL/English Prince Hamlet a few months ago, I’ve been on the lookout for other examples of Deaf representation in arts and culture. As a bookworm, my interest naturally fell on finding books that featured Deaf characters or touched upon Deaf Culture.

I should point out that I’m not Deaf, CODA nor hard of hearing, so I’m in no way an expert on how good or how problematic a book is when representing Deaf Culture. That being said, below are books I’ve recently discovered and enjoyed. Most of my online searches for books on Deaf Culture and about Deaf characters often showed only academic texts or children’s books teaching the ASL alphabet, so I hope compiling this list will help other interested bookworms find their next read.

Finally — I’m always looking for my next great read. If you know of any fantastic titles I can add to this list, let me know!

1. El Deafo by Cece Bell

20701984

A birthday gift from a friend, this adorable graphic memoir is by turns hilarious and bittersweet. Based in part on the author’s own experiences of growing up, El Deafo is about a young bunny, Cece, who is the only deaf kid at her new school. Cece creates a superhero persona ‘El Deafo’ to gain confidence when trying to make new friends, and uses the super-powered hearing from her Phonic Ear to help her classmates keep out of trouble. See my full review here.

2. Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown

29863612

A deaf/hard of hearing college student falls in love with the hot deaf guy in her class. Carli has hidden her deafness all her life, and I love how her relationship with Reed helps her come to terms with her deafness, feel okay with needing CART services or close captioning, and learn ASL. The story was a lot more intense than the light-hearted romance I expected (content warning: child abuse, violence against women, suicide), and there were plot threads that I wish had been explored more (Reed’s birth father, Carli’s mother and sisters), but overall, I really liked this book.

I also love how signs are depicted in this book – most of the signed conversations are depicted in italics, but because Carli is just beginning to learn sign language, whenever characters use signs that she hasn’t learned yet, the author also describes the gesture. The scenes involving the sign for “falling in love” are particularly squee-worthy.

The author is hard of hearing and her next book Friend (with Benefits) Zone features two Deaf main characters.

3. Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

7818683

This funny, hipsterish middle-grade/young adult story is about a deaf teenage girl who accepts a dare to become the manager of her high school band ‘Dumb’ and land them a paying gig within a month. Fuelled mostly by passion, Dumb is great at making noise but horrible at actually creating music together. Piper’s efforts to enforce harmony amongst the members often go hilariously awry, but the novel’s heart lies in the characters’ sincere love for music, and Piper’s realization that being a good manager goes beyond just making the next quick buck.

I also really liked the family dynamics. A decision by Piper’s parents leads to a major turning point in her relationship with them, her rebellious younger brother turns out to be a staunch ally, and she confronts her complex emotions about her baby sister having cochlear implants.

4. Finding Zoe: A Deaf Woman’s Journey of Love, Identity, and Adoption by Brandi Rarus and Gail Harris

20702909

Brandi Rarus came of age at a very exciting time in Deaf history – she was a college student during the Gallaudet University 1988 student and faculty protest for a Deaf President, and ended up marrying one of the student leaders Tim Rarus. I loved learning about her life and seeing this period from her perspective as a deaf woman who grew up oral in a hearing household. For example, she writes about how Tim snubbed her at their first meeting because, having grown up in a multi-generational Deaf family, he viewed her as “too oral.”

The section about Zoe was the final third of the book, and I liked that Rarus featured the perspectives of the multiple people involved in the adoption, including Zoe’s birth parents and the family who had originally intended to adopt her. Rarus’ love for her child and joy over welcoming Zoe into their family is beautiful and heartwarming, but I felt bad for Zoe’s birth father. BJ wanted to raise his daughter and his parents had promised their support, but the birth mother Jess refused to give Zoe up to him (because it meant that she didn’t want her child, whereas giving the child up to a two-parent household meant “giving the child a better life”), and the adoption counselor eventually strong-armed him into agreeing that a traditional two-parent household (“with a mother and a father”) would be best. Even Jess’ decision to give up her child was heavily influenced by her religious mother, who basically convinced her that raising the child herself doomed Jess and the baby to a lifetime on welfare whereas adoption was presented in ridiculously fairy tale-like terms.

5. Seeing Voices by Oliver Sacks

66723

I discovered this book at a local bookstore and thought it was a great introduction to Deaf history. I was fascinated to learn about sign language’s roots in indigenous languages within the Deaf community, which developed as a natural form of communication despite attempts to teach Deaf people speech. I was also horrified to learn about the violence in forcing Deaf children to learn spoken languages, which delays their introduction to education in other areas.

I hadn’t realized that Sign Language used to be viewed by hearing people as only a gestural adaptation of English, until linguist William Stokoe argued about ASL having a linguistic structure and therefore being a language in its own right. I also hadn’t realized that Gallaudet University, which I’ve heard is one of the best post-secondary school for Deaf students, has had only hearing presidents until the late 1980s. Sacks covers the Deaf President Now protests, from a more detached yet detailed perspective than Rarus did, and that was my favourite part of this book.

Blog Tour | Just a Little Bit of Love, Ines Bautista-Yao

just a little bit of loveOne of Ines Bautista-Yao’s greatest strengths as a romance writer is that she is able to tap into the romantic fantasies of our high school selves. You know the type. That moment in life when it does seem conceivable that a pop star can find you in the midst of a crowd of screaming girls and fall madly in love, or that the hot captain of the sports team harbours a secret crush on the nerdy math geek.

Bautista-Yao takes these fantasies, and repackages them into sweet vignettes that actually feel real, and more to the point, realistic. Rather than Nick Carter swooning as he catches your eye at a Backstreet Boys concert (ahem), perhaps it’s a cute, shy man at the coffee shop where you work. Or the (actually cuter) teammate of that athlete you’re crushing on. Or perhaps it’s the random cute guy you encounter once at a work event and fear you may never see again.

These stories make up Bautista-Yao’s newest book Just a Little Bit of Love, a collection of short stories that are tangentially related to the main characters in her most recent novel Only a Kiss. As the blurb says, these are just small doses of romance, but they do serve up a whole lot of feels.

Q&A WITH INES BAUTISTA-YAO:

1. These stories revisit the world of Kate and Chris from your novel Only a Kiss. What inspired you to return to that world and flesh out these characters?

I wish I could give you a more creative answer but the truth is, I started writing the story blog posts to promote Only A Kiss. Then my husband asked how many stories I had and suggested putting them all together in a collection. The problem was I wasn’t done with one of my stories and no matter what I did, I couldn’t seem to finish it. So I stopped writing it and just started a new one which I fell in love with in an instant!

2. Two of the stories may be familiar to avid readers of your blog, where they were originally published. What was the reader response to those stories and what made you decide to include them in this collection?

Whenever I would announce the stories, I’d get readers and friends messaging me asking for more. So this is it! But of course, I’m still getting requests for more haha! But that’s always a good thing.

3. In “On the Sidelines,” the romance begins with tension — Ina finds John annoying. What about this type of beginning interests you as a writer?

I like complications because I want to see how my characters figure them out and come out better, stronger, and happier in the end. Also, it makes my characters and their relationships more intriguing.

4. I love Ina’s friend Robert, who cheers on her romance while being too afraid to pursue his own. His fear is compounded by his being gay, and unsure how his crushes will respond. What inspired Robert’s character, and do you think you’ll ever write a romance between characters of the same sex?

I have no idea. I didn’t plan for Robert to be gay, he just was. When I start writing, I have a very general idea in mind and everything comes together when I start putting the words down. So I don’t know if I will write a same sex romance. Who knows? I just might one day 🙂 As for inspiration, that’s a secret because I think it’s still a secret, if you know what I mean 🙂

5. John tries to woo Ina with cheese rolls and in “Sticky Notes”, Jacob charms Carla with a sticky note. What was the sweetest thing a guy has done for you, and what made it so special?

I believe there’s a fine line between sweet and creepy. The difference lies in your feelings for the boy. If Ina didn’t like John, his persistence would have been creepy. If Carla didn’t like Jacob, she would have been grossed out by the sticky note. So given that, I’ve had boys serenade me, draw me islands, write me poetry, give me bouquets of flowers, but the sweetest thing a boy has ever done for me was something I only found out about after it happened. Before my husband and I got together, he was praying a novena to St. Joseph that I would finally come to my senses and realize I was in love with him too 🙂

+

Thanks to the author for inviting me to be a part of this blog tour!

Just a Little Bit of Love is available on Amazon.

 

Review | Tides of Honour, Genevieve Graham

TidesofHonourIf you love historical dramas and romances set in the time of war, you may love Genevieve Graham’s Tides of Honour. It begins in 1917 Nova Scotia, where Private Daniel Baker returns home having lost a leg in the First World War. Through flashbacks, we see how he met artist Audrey Poulin while stationed in France and how both fell in love. Though Daniel gallantly offers to let her go and find someone without such a debilitating injury, Audrey nevertheless professes her continuing love for him, and moves to Halifax to be his wife.

The novel starts off a bit slow. There are poignant moments, particularly where Daniel encounters the parents of soldiers who’ve died in the war, and the pain they feel upon seeing each other — Daniel, with the guilt of surviving, and the parents with the reminder of the son they’d lost. But otherwise, I found the beginning, with its buildup of the romance between Daniel and Audrey, to be plodding.

After marriage is when the conflict really starts, particularly when Audrey’s artistic career shows promise of taking off and Daniel is stuck underemployed and barely managing with his injury. Graham keeps the story very much a product of its time and place, and while I understand the faithfulness to historical accuracy, a lot was grating for a contemporary reader to witness. In particular, Daniel’s whole alpha male pride thing really ticked me off. He’s the man of the house, he should be the breadwinner, he should be the one to support the family, etc. Historically accurate, perhaps, but I didn’t blame Audrey for feeling stifled.

Audrey is the best part of this novel. I love how her talent helped her gain some degree of financial independence, and I love her interest in the suffragette movement. I only wish her involvement with the suffragettes was explored a bit more, and I would have loved an entire novel from her perspective.

Both their worlds get turned upside down with the Halifax Explosion of 1917. I wasn’t familiar with that bit of Canadian history, but Graham does a great job of showing the tragic effects on individual lives. I love how it affected Daniel, in particular, and helped him go beyond himself and his initial ideas of how his life should have turned out. It’s a poignant reminder that people’s stories continue even after something as shattering as surviving a war.

+

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for an advance reading copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Off the Page, Jodi Picoult and Samantha Van Leer

23278280Off the Page by mother and daughter team Picoult and Van Leer, is a sequel to their earlier collaboration Between the Lines

If, like me, you haven’t read Between the Lines, here’s a quick overview (spoiler warning): shy and bookish Delilah falls in love with a prince, Oliver, in a fairy tale book. It turns out Oliver wants to escape the monotony of fairy tale life himself (he and the other characters have to act out the story each time someone opens the book). They track down the author of the fairy tale, who modelled the character of the prince on her own son Edgar, and by the end of the book, somehow manage to have Oliver and Edgar switch places.

Off the Page takes place a couple of months after. Delilah is thrilled to have her fairy tale prince as a real life boyfriend, until she realizes that the traits she finds so charming about him are also making him the most popular boy in school. The high school queen bee wants him for herself, and Delilah is beginning to wonder if bringing him into her world is worth having to share him with everyone else.

Other complications arise as well. The fairy tale begins sending Oliver messages to return home. Other real life and fairy tale characters accidentally switch places. And Edgar’s mother reveals something that may mean Edgar needs to return to the real world.

This is a fun, lighthearted read. It was entertaining to read about Oliver’s reactions to ordinary things in the real world, and it was easy to see why he was so immediately well-liked. Delilah was a bit more annoying. It seemed selfish of her to be jealous of Oliver’s social success, and her pouty jealousy over an on-stage kiss seemed petty. That being said, I do remember bouts of irrational insecurity as a teenager, so her responses are likely realistic.

What I loved the most was the relationship between Delilah’s best friend Jules and Edgar. They bond over zombies and oddball references, and while Jules’ prickliness could at times be over the top, I did find myself pulling for them even more than I was for Delilah and Oliver.

This is a great book for younger readers. I can imagine myself at ten swooning over the idea of a fairy tale prince coming to life and head over heels in love with me, and then getting all worked up about the circumstances that may keep us apart. The storytelling has a bit of a fairy tale feel as well — a straightforward, simple story line, beautifully illustrated, and featuring a flying dragon, a string of words taking physical form in the air, and a special star you can hold in the palm of your hand. The ending too has a nice, family friendly feel, with a son’s love for his mother being the driving force. There’s an almost Disney-like feel that sets this apart form the grittier, more realistic YA that are very popular these days.

It’s not a Jodi Picoult read by any means — if you’re a fan of her in-depth tearjerkers, this is more an escape from real life than a dive into it. Nor does it completely transport you into the idea of literature as magic — for that, Cornelia Funke’s Inkheart is far more magical.

But it’s a nice read, a great way to spend a lazy afternoon. And if you happen to know a ten or eleven year old bookworm who is a true blue romantic, this would be a great gift.

+

Thanks to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | Emma, Alexander McCall Smith

20604787Alexander McCall Smith’s Emma is a funny and intelligent modern re-telling of the Jane Austen classic. McCall Smith is a master at language, and his take on the story features many wry observations and witty one liners that recall Austen’s style.

I particularly liked the updating of Mr. Woodhouse, now a rather neurotic scientist and overprotective father. Miss Taylor as well, as Emma’s governess, is a snappy and smart foil to Mr. Woodhouse, a caring guardian to Emma yet also a very practical modern woman.

My primary reservation with McCall Smith’s version is that it feels dated. With the exception of Mr. Woodhouse, it almost feels like a Regency period piece, with only a few markers here and there to remind us otherwise. The characters’ concerns about class, social status and marrying well are at odds with the contemporary setting. Emma does have a career, but it feels tacked on rather than integral to the story. The character has always been spoiled, even in the original Austen, but Austen’s version had a charm to her that appears lacking in McCall Smith’s. In this contemporary re-telling, we know Emma has the best intentions because Miss Taylor tells us so. But this Emma seems more true than the original to hold to Austen’s prediction that Emma will be a “heroine whom no one but myself will much like.”

Perhaps the characters in this particular Austen just don’t translate well to the contemporary era — George Knightley in particular seemed more pompous and self-righteous than I remembered. That being said, Amy Heckerling did a fantastic job adapting Emma into the movie CluelessGranted, Clueless is a much looser interpretation of the original Austen, but it keeps the heart of the characters — Alicia Silverstone’s Cher is exactly how I’d imagine a contemporary (well, 1990s) Emma to act. Clueless is dated, even today, but it still feels fresher and more natural than McCall Smith’s Emma. 

I actually enjoyed reading McCall Smith’s Emma. It was a fun, lighthearted read, and while Emma and Knightley irked me at times, McCall Smith’s deftness with language kept me entertained throughout. I also understand that McCall Smith’s project with this book was in no way similar to that of Clueless, and it would be unfair to compare both. This is a funny, well-written book, that felt just a tad too constrained by its purpose. I enjoyed reading this book, but I also kept wishing that I were watching Clueless instead.

+

Thank you to Random House Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Review | After, Anna Todd

22557520Anna Todd’s After is a classic “good girl meets bad boy” love story that began as a fan fiction romance about teen heartthrob Harry Styles (of British boy band One Direction). It became such an online phenomenon that the story has since published by traditional book publisher Simon and Schuster and movie rights have been optioned.

After is a fun, entertaining read, and I zipped through the book in a weekend. Hardin (the Harry Styles character, renamed for publication) is definitely not my choice in boyfriend, whether literary or real life, but I think that’s just me being old. I can imagine teenage me going gooey at his broody grouchiness. As Anna Todd said when I met her at Indigo, there’s something undeniably attractive about being the one woman special enough to make the bad boy want to change. And indeed, as with TwilightFifty Shades of Grey, Wuthering Heights , Pride and Prejudice and other such influences for this book, in After, bad boy Hardin falls for good girl Tessa and finds the impetus to change his ways.

As a hero, Hardin insults Tessa, smirks a lot (though nowhere near as much as Edward Cullen) and acts like he’s too cool for practically everything. I had been dreading a controlling, abusive bad boy type, but he struck me more as bratty than abusive. The romance and their arguments felt immature, more Sweet Valley High than Fifty Shades of Grey, and it was more amusing than anything.

To Anna Todd’s credit, Tessa isn’t the precious snowflake that Bella Swan and Ana Steele are. She’s a young, innocent girl who is so prim and proper at the beginning that even I wanted to tell her to loosen up. She’s a realistic character, even with her odd quirk of setting alarms for every single bit of her day, but her personality shift happened much too quickly. The odd quirk of setting multiple alarms was abandoned fairly early on, and while she never turned into a Jessica Wakefield, she still felt like a completely different person a few chapters into the story.

To be honest, the turbulence of their relationship didn’t bother me as much as the fairy tale nature of Tessa’s internship. Minor spoiler alert for the rest of this paragraph: she lands a dream internship at a publishing company thanks to Hardin’s family connections (shades of Fifty Shades here). Thing is, the internship is so good that it stretches credulity past the breaking point — it’s paid, for one, and despite the job being just a part-time internship, the pay is enough for rent. Also, Tessa gets her own computer, her own phone line and her own office. Then, during her first day, the head of the company gives her a stack of manuscript submissions and tells her to send on to him any manuscripts she thinks worth publishing, and to throw away any that she doesn’t like. Seriously? I’ve never worked in publishing, so there may be some truth to this, for all I know. But I doubt it. Now, granted, a lot of my response is sour grapes at not having my own office, but well, even a wish fulfillment fantasy should have some credence of believability, no?

That being said, the romance was entertaining to read. There were some troubling aspects, but again, I think Hardin’s brand of bad boy was just too immature for me to really get into. Tessa’s jealousy over Hardin’s past relationships leads to some pretty stupid decisions, but again, it all feels very high schoolish. I generally like YA, and I know there are adult fans of this story. I’m just not one of them — I think I’m just too curmudgeonly and at multiple times wanted to tell the characters to grow up. But I did enjoy reading the book, and I even might pick up the next book in the series for a snowy weekend.

+

Thank you to Simon and Schuster Canada for a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

Scotland in Toronto, men in kilts and Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander on screen

Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television

Outlander preview party at The Caledonian, Toronto. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

A Scottish-themed cocktail party on a weeknight — how could I resist? Throw in a special preview screening of the first episode of Outlander and an image of Jamie Fraser on the invitation practically commanding you to come — just see that smouldering gaze and outstretched hand! — well, yes, I’m there.

Also, well, men in kilts. Because kilts.

_AM78506

Why yes, there were men in kilts at the party. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Outlander is based on the first book in a best selling series by Diana Gabaldon, and the TV adaptation premieres in Canada on Showcase Sundays at 10pm ET/PT, beginning August 24. The show begins at the end of World War II, when combat nurse Claire Randall (Caitriona Balfe) travels to Scotland to reconnect with her husband, professor and genealogy geek Frank (Tobias Menzies). While in Scotland, Claire is mysteriously transported two centuries back in time, and ends up falling in love with hot young warrior Jamie Fraser (Sam Heughan). Claire is torn, between two vastly different men and two vastly different lives.

Photographer: Ed Miller/Sony Pictures Television

Caitriona Balfe as Claire Randall. Photograph by Ed Miller/Sony Pictures Television.

I’d heard this show touted as a “feminist Game of Thrones” and I’d also read several articles praising this show as a ground breaking feminist gesture. A science fiction/fantasy show aimed at women with a strong female protagonist is definitely something I support, and with Ronald D. Moore (Battlestar Galactica, Star Trek: The Next Generation) at the helm, this show was high on my list to check out.

I deliberately refrained from re-reading the book before the screening. From what I remember, I wasn’t a big fan of the book — I mostly thought Frank got a really raw deal, and I didn’t remember Claire being particularly strong or ground breaking. I wanted to give the TV show a chance, watch it with fresh eyes, and I’m glad I did.

The first episode is powerful, compelling television. I was hooked from the very first scene — after treating a soldier with a leg wound, Claire meets a crowd of men and women cheering and celebrating the end of the war. Claire doesn’t smile or cry in relief, or do any of the things I expected her to do. Instead, without changing her expression, she pulls out a bottle and takes a long drink. I had no idea what was going through her mind at that moment, and that was when I knew this show was going to be special. With all she’s seen, and all she’s gone through during the war, what is there to be said?

What makes a female protagonist strong? Examples range from Katniss Everdeen to Hermione Granger to Cersei Lannister, and I always love it when a female character breaks the “strong woman” mould and still manages to be kickass in her own way. In the case of Claire Randall, she mostly struck me as being real. Here is a woman who is skilled at a demanding career, yet who is haunted by the horrors she’s seen and by the need to settle down into a kind of domestic idyll. It’s a complex role, and kudos to Caitriona Balfe for bringing just the right mix of strength, vulnerability and humour to the role.

Frank and Claire. Photograph by Sony Pictures Television.

Tobias Menzies and Caitriona Balfe as Frank and Claire Randall. Photograph by Sony Pictures Television.

Claire is also wholly in charge of her own sexuality. In one scene, Frank leans in to kiss her and Claire grabs his head and pushes it down between her legs instead, and all I could think was, “You go, girl!” It seems odd that this feels new in 2014, but with so many TV shows and movies focusing on male sexuality, it is refreshing to see a woman on screen taking the lead. Sex is also key to the story — in a voiceover later on, Claire confesses that sex is how she and Frank reconnect.

Photographer: Sony Pictures Television

Catriona Balfe and Sam Heughan as Claire Randall and Jamie Fraser. Photograph by Sony Pictures Television.

I was pulling for Frank in the novel, and I love Tobias Menzies in the role. Many may remember him as Catelyn Stark’s brother in Game of Thrones (the man who shot several flaming arrows at his father’s barge and kept missing each time), but I mostly remember him as Brutus from HBO’s Rome. Here he portrays both the dashing yet adorably geeky Frank Randall and the brutish, violent Black Jack Randall, Frank’s ancestor in 1740s Scotland.

This episode as well made me realize why Claire and so many readers are in love with Jamie. Sam Heughan manages to be both smouldering and adorable in the role, and so intense in this episode that I’m hoping to see a bit more of his lighthearted side later on. There were quite a few Jamie Fraser fans in my audience: at one point, Jamie asks Claire, “Do you want me to pick you up and throw you over my shoulder?” To which a woman in the audience responded, “Yes!”

Inspired by Jamie Fraser, the lovely team at Showcase treated us party-goers to a fantastic Scottish-themed affair. There was whisky tasting at the back, where the bartender taught us how the taste of each whisky is influenced by its region of origin. It ranged from a light whisky that got its taste purely from the barrel in which it was kept (very spicy to my untrained tongue) and a peaty drink from an area with a craggy landscape, high winds and raging storms (tasted like smoke, again to my untrained tongue).

Whisky tasting station. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Television

Whisky tasting station. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

The food was amazing, featuring Scottish eggs (eggs in sausages), vegetarian haggis balls (I know, right? but it was yummy), shrimp on crostini, and a whole lot more that I can’t name, but all tasted really good.

Scottish eggs. Photography courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Scottish eggs. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

It was great meeting up with Chatelaine Books Editor Laurie Grassi and Toronto book bloggers Christa, Michele and Liz.

Chatting with Laurie after the screening. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Chatting with Laurie after the screening. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Thanks to the organizers for a fantastic goodie bag, which came complete with a Pocket Jamie.

Swag bags. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Swag bags. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

And of course, men in kilts.

Lindsey and I with the kilted men. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Lindsey and I with the kilted men. Photograph courtesy of Showcase and Sony Pictures Television.

Thank you to Showcase and Sony Pictures Television for a lovely evening. I was hooked by the first episode of Outlander, and I’ll definitely be following along.

Outlander airs on Showcase Sundays at 10pm ET/PT, beginning August 24. You can join the conversation on Twitter @showcasedotca and the hashtag #Outlander. See www.showcase.ca/outlander for more information.