The Deaf community may be getting some long-overdue recognition in our culture right now. First “CODA” won the best-picture Oscar, then spring brought the release of three compelling books featuring Deaf characters: True Biz by Sara Novic (a Reese’s Book Club pick), The Sign for Home by Blair Fell (a Bookies pick from my colleague Erica O’Rourke), and Deaf Utopia, the memoir of reality show star Nyle DiMarco. While I’m eager to read all three, so far I’ve loved True Biz, which offers a fascinating look into Deaf culture, longstanding discrimination against Deaf folks, and Deaf pride.
In suburban Ohio, sixteen-year-old Charlie has just transitioned to a Deaf boarding school after having been “mainstreamed” in regular public school. Unlike the kids around her, she has a cochlear implant, doesn’t know ASL, and has never been in an all-Deaf community before. She can’t communicate with her peers, many of whom do not speak verbally, and is far behind academically. Her headmistress, February, pairs her with Austin Workman, the school’s golden boy and poster child for Deaf culture, so he can help her fit in. In the meantime, February is coping with school budget cuts while caring for her aging mother, and Austin is coping with a cranky ex-girlfriend and a new addition to his family. Eventually feisty Charlie reclaims her Deaf identity, but getting there is a bumpy road.
Novic, who is Deaf herself, deftly weaves together all the characters’ stories and includes fascinating (and saddening) tidbits of Deaf history. For example: did you know that Alexander Graham Bell, who had a deaf wife and mother, wanted to eradicate sign language? Or that Black American Sign Language exists as a dialect of ASL? There are even brief ASL tutorials sprinkled throughout the book.
True Biz is a pleasure to read, with compelling characters and a plot that flows effortlessly. It is a moving coming-of-age story, plus an illuminating look into Deaf culture and the fight for Deaf rights. I’ll definitely be adding this one to our library’s book club collection!
P.S. Wondering what “true biz” means? See this video: