A young girl living on Martha’s Vineyard in 1805 doesn’t think her community of Deaf and hearing signers is special until the day the hearing world violently intrudes.
In present-tense narrator Mary Lambert’s life, it is easy to forget who is Deaf and who is hearing. Everyone she knows uses sign language, and a quarter of her village is Deaf. Mary only learns how different her community is when a young scientist with disdain for the Deaf and no understanding of their culture arrives, seeking to discover the cause of their “infirmity”—using Mary as an experimental subject. LeZotte weaves threads of adventure, family tragedy, community, racism, and hearing people’s negative assumptions about Deaf people into a beautiful and complex whole. Mary overcomes her own ordeal with the support of her community, but in the process she discovers that there is no silver bullet for the problems and prejudices of the world. There is no hollow inspirational content to be found in this tale, even where another author may have fallen into the trap. Though Mary is white of English descent, LeZotte acknowledges the racial tensions among the English, black, Irish, and Wampanoag residents of Martha’s Vineyard, creating a dynamic that Mary interacts within but cannot fix. Each element of the narrative comes together to create an all-too-rare thing: an excellent book about a Deaf person. A closing note provides further information on Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language and the history of both Martha’s Vineyard and Deaf education.
A vivid depiction of Deaf community along with an exciting plot and beautiful prose make this a must-read. (Historical fiction. 8-14)