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OF SOUND MIND by Jean Ferris


by Jean Ferris

Pub Date: Sept. 24th, 2001
ISBN: 0-374-35580-0
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux

Theo’s problems are both unusual and ordinary, as the only hearing child in a family otherwise deaf, and as the child of a parent who selfishly forgets who is the adult. Many oldest children may have the martyr syndrome going, but few with the resounding excuses of an artistically gifted deaf mother who relies on Theo for interpretation in her interactions with the world at large, a deaf brother who depends on Theo to be a parent, and a deaf father who quietly fills in the gaps, but refuses to rein in his wife. Flashy and gorgeous Ivy shows up at the bus stop and catches Theo signing swear words to himself. As the two discover elements in common and romance commences, they also find themselves unwilling to accept the other’s point of view about past and future choices. His father’s stroke heightens the pressure on Theo, forcing him to confront his own role. Ferris indicates speaking in sign with a boldface type and translates into English grammar to smooth the reader’s way. Great sensitivity is shown to the deaf culture and yet Theo’s position as the hearing one in his family is seen ultimately as both burden and gift. The core issue explored is the strain on a child whose parent is unwilling to parent, with deafness exacerbating the situation. Ivy’s hearing mother has abandoned her to her deaf father, and so there is a contrast in circumstances and personality that provides conflict in addition to the events that unfold. Told from Theo’s point of view, there is an unusual psychological richness that intrigues and keeps the somewhat stock characters from falling completely into cliché. A quiet story that resonates. (Fiction. 12+)