STARRED REVIEW
September 01, 2014

Growing up can require superpowers

By Cece Bell
Review by

Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. When author-illustrator Cece Bell was a child, it was the Phonic Ear, a bulky one partly strapped to her chest (not the smaller, unobtrusive ones of today), which served as the best option for amplifying her hearing and enabling her to better lip-read the world around her. In her new graphic novel memoir for children, Bell brings this childhood experience to life with humor and style.

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Hearing aids aren’t what they used to be. When author-illustrator Cece Bell was a child, it was the Phonic Ear, a bulky one partly strapped to her chest (not the smaller, unobtrusive ones of today), which served as the best option for amplifying her hearing and enabling her to better lip-read the world around her. In her new graphic novel memoir for children, Bell brings this childhood experience to life with humor and style.

She captures specifics with ease—the childhood of the ‘70s ("The Waltons," anyone?), as well as her own particular experience with hearing loss. Yet the book touches upon universal themes, as any good memoir does. (To be clear, Bell notes at the book’s close that she was more interested in capturing childhood feelings than “being 100 percent accurate with the details,” so perhaps this goes into the category of “fictionalized memoir.”) The young Bell struggled to fit in, to find true friends and to determine her own unique gifts and self-worth, like many adolescents do. Many of these challenges are laugh-out-loud funny (with her hearing aid, for one, Bell could hear her teachers as they wandered around the building), making this an enjoyable, accessible read.

Communicating a refreshing self-awareness, Bell includes her most bumbling, awkward moments (as well as those of well-meaning kids and adults around her) without crippling self-consciousness, which is part of what makes this such a poignant, honest read. You almost forget the characters have rabbit ears; they’re living, breathing, complex personalities, and readers feel as if they’re right there with the young Bell.

In a thoughtful closing author’s note, she makes clear that her childhood experience is not meant to be indicative of the experiences of hard-of-hearing or deaf people everywhere, noting that some people choose to use American Sign Language and do not consider their deafness a disability. “I am an expert on no one’s deafness but my own,” she writes.

And we readers are lucky she shared that experience with us. Utterly charming and sweet without ever being saccharine, this is like no other book you’ll read this year.

 

ALSO IN BOOKPAGE: Read a Q&A with Cece Bell for El Deafo.

Julie Danielson features authors and illustrators at Seven Impossible Things Before Breakfast, a children’s literature blog.

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El Deafo

El Deafo

By Cece Bell
Amulet
ISBN 9781419712173

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