True Biz by Sara Nović is a novel like none I’ve ever read before. It’s the story of a group of students and their principal at a school for the deaf. While the book deals with many pressing and important issues about lip-reading, cochlear implants and isolation, it also deals with themes of civil rights, injustice and first love. It’s also a story, like any other story, of kids coming of age and trying to navigate family issues, loss and growth.
I felt privileged as I was reading the book to have a small window into the lives of those who can’t hear (and the lives of those nearest and dearest to them). I’ve never read a book that focuses on these issues and characters with this unique make-up. Reading it brought up many issues for me.
Of course, there are the many struggles presented in the book for the deaf community. What does it mean to be deaf and who gets to define how you live your life as a deaf person? Are cochlear implants the answer or are those just a form of conformity to social norms? Are schools for the deaf the answer, or is that isolationist? So many questions…and few answers.
But the book also made me feel a bit embarrassed and sad. Embarrassed that I’ve never – ever – read a book centered on the deaf community. And sad to wonder just how many fiction stories have deaf heroes and heroines – how easy or difficult is it for a deaf child to see themselves in the stories they read? Of course, this question can be extrapolated out to any community and unique challenge facing people today. I take it for granted that I can relate to the characters in the books that I read. But what if I couldn’t? What if it were frustrating that none of the main characters in my fiction books looked and felt like me?
While I think the book may have tried to cram a few too many themes into its pages, it was certainly eye-opening for me and well worth the read. I hope that I’m in the minority as someone who knows little about the struggles and needs of the deaf community. This book certainly offered an interesting first window into this world and one I appreciated a great deal. I hope you will as well; and if you already know a lot about the deaf community or know of other interesting literature, I’d love to learn about it.