This graphic novel is exactly what I was expecting– and that is what made it so perfect. A semi-autobiographical graphic novel where the author, her friends, and family are depicted as bunnies. BUNNIES. And yet, we experience a heart-wrenching story about dealing with deafness and relationships.
As you might know, I have been trying to read outside my comfort zone this year. Specifically with the goal of educating myself on the world outside my bubble. I recognize as a upper-middle class white woman in America. I could learn a lot from the people of the world. And so, as someone who lives in a non-ethnically-diverse community, I have been trying to find more ways to learn more. It started with skin tone, as is something easy to identify a knowledge gap in (Check out my review of Americanah for more on that!), but all this reading has done is prove to me again and again how ignorant I am.
Cece Bell uses adorable illustration, humor, and the active imagination of youth to share her story. Cece is 4 years old when she has meningitis. As a result of this illness, she loses her hearing. Which was at the time, unfortunately common in young meningitis patients. And thusly we begin to follow Cece’s life through school.
At first, she attends a school with other children who have similar hearing problems. She takes speech therapy and learns how to read lips. She doesn’t feel alone or alienated. However, the next year, Cece attends school with all the “regular” kids, and life gets tough. No one spoke to Cece about how her hearing loss wasn’t something to be ashamed of. All she knew was that she was different, and that made it hard to have friends. Many issues Cece faced are ones our school children still face. It doesn’t matter if you have cochlear implants or not– you might still be picked on, or might still deal with bullies, or might still struggle with your first crush. But some of these issues are unique to her hearing disability.
Sometimes, the battery would run out on her phonic ear, and Cece would have to live in silence for long lengths of time. Or, people would assume talking louder would help (it didn’t). Or talking slower would help (just insulting). Or being friends with her because they felt bad (no one likes endless pity).
But the most important part of this graphic novel is that it promotes awareness and understanding for people with disabilities. Particularly in this case with hearing disabilities. I will admit, I learned a lot from reading this. For example, I am definitely that person who speaks up when you have a hearing aid or some such. But, that doesn’t help– depending on the person, I might just need to annunciate more. (Thanks modern media for teaching me that terrible trick.) Louder isn’t always better. This book focuses on helping children identify ways to more clearly communicate their needs and not to be ashamed of that.
And being different? That turned out to be the best part of all. I found that with a little creativity, and a lot of dedication, any difference can be turned into something amazing. Our differences are our superpowers.
Authentic and relatable, El Deafo clearly tells a story all children need to hear: Not just about disability awareness, but about how to relate to people, how to establish friendships, and how to take pride in who you are.