As NYC swelters through the dog days of summer, I find myself wishing for an early start to fall. This summer, what with work projects and reading projects and writing projects, has been busy. It’s also passed quickly — in ten days I’ll be back in the classroom, for my antepenultimate semester of teaching. Yes, it’s official. Retirement is close enough to seem real.
Meanwhile. I’ve just finished my 43rd book for the 2015 Reading Challenge. Here’s the next installment of highlights:
Jessica Day George’s Silver in the Blood, *published this year* is a YA/New Adult gothic romance novel set for the most part in Rumania. Another take on Stoker’s *supernatural* Dracula, it follows two 17-year-old American debutantes as they learn dark family secrets in Bucharest and beyond. With lines like “He smelled like money and masculinity” and scenes where the heroines find themselves in various stages of undress, I found myself laughing at parts I suspect the author didn’t intend to be funny. Too many eyebrows climbed to hairlines, too many hysterics and vapors simmered under the surface. I dismissed it as “popular fiction”, but at p. 170 I turned to my daughter and said, “It just got good.” It got good because the author surprised me. George doesn’t need you to buy this book, so just look for it at a library. It helps if you’ve read Dracula, but that isn’t completely necessary.
I can highly recommend two books in verse, deserving the several awards they’ve garnered. Kwame Alexander’s The Crossover, with a scene *set at Christmas*, tells of a young basketball player dealing with jealousy of his twin brother. The photos in Jacqueline Woodson’s memoir, Brown Girl Dreaming, brought me close to *tears*. These books portray black lives at a time when it’s crucial for all to understand how these lives are different from, but also so similar to, the lives of non-black people.
Another memoir, this one in graphic form and chosen on the basis of *its cover*, deserves a lengthy commentary. In Cece Bell’s El Deafo, the young Cece, after a bout with meningitis, loses her hearing. This is back in the 1970s, when the solution was to hang a canteen-sized machine around her neck with wires leading to her ears. With her teacher hooked up to a microphone, Cece could hear everything the teacher said. Even when the teacher left the room. Thus Cece could effectively accompany her teacher to the teachers’ lounge, the cafeteria, even to the bathroom. Cece, at first embarrassed by the hearing aid, hides it and hopes no one notices.
Cece chooses not to learn sign language, feeling naked without the huge hearing aid box dangling from her neck. She makes and loses friends, seeing insult where only care was intended. El Deafo is her imagined alter ego, with superpowers to defeat the ignorance, stupidity and unintended cruelty Cece faces when people react to her deafness.
Having a sister who has been deaf for 30 years, and who will soon have a cochlear implant, I could recognize my sister’s experiences in everything Bell describes — the inability to participate in multi-participant discussions, the impossibility of playing team sports, the loneliness of a silent world. Cece gets glasses and sees individual leaves on trees for the first time — I had the exact same experience.
It’s dismaying to recognize oneself in Bell’s characters, who are all too realistic in their fears, errors — and then reassuring to see their humor, strengths, and loyalties. Cece copes with “difference” by hating the term “special” until she realizes that El Deafo is, in fact, very special — someone unlike anyone else, who can help both deaf and hearing people learn how to be more inclusive. I loved this book.