Release Date: September 27, 2012
Genre: Fiction – Children & Young Adult – Family – Deaf Culture
Synopsis: Jade Gilbert is the only hearing member in her family. Her older sister gets to go to the school for the deaf headed by her grandfather, but Jade feels left out. Marla thinks her little sister is a pest and a brat. When they end up on the same softball team for the summer, neither is happy about it. Jade, the smallest player on the team, is assigned to be the catcher. It looks like it’s going to be a long season. As sisters, they are often at loggerheads, but as team mates Jade and Marla have to find ways to get along. In spite of their differences, they soon discover that each has a lot to offer the other.
Strong Deaf is a unique experience in many ways. For one, the story is told from alternating perspectives – between Jade and her older sister Marla. As Marla is deaf, her part of the story is told in ASL [American Sign Language] – which can be hard to adjust to when you’re reading it and not seeing it.
Once I got used to the style, I enjoyed it and it really helped me to see things from Marla’s perspective. As a reader with some experience with ASL, I found myself imagining Marla sitting in front of me signing her side of the story. However, readers unfamiliar with ASL may have more difficulty adjusting enough to get into the story.
What also adds to Strong Deaf‘s uniqueness is the fact that – whereas many stories about deaf children involve the deaf child living in a family of hearing – in this story, the hearing sister is actually the minority in her household. It was a nice change getting to see the hearing/deaf ratio essentially reversed, and seeing the deaf culture from a family so strongly involved in it.
As for the content, the synopsis is not really an accurate summary of the book as the majority of the storyline and character development takes place off the softball field. Also, though both siblings had their life lessons to learn, I actually felt that Marla was more immature than her little sister – and downright condescending towards the hearing world, including those in her own family. Of course, as Marla points out, she’s a teenager now, and so the extreme behavior Marla displayed could have been an intentional reflection of her age. Fortunately, the two girls have stable parents and an extended family to help guide the young girls through such an awkward time.
That said, Strong Deaf is a story about young siblings learning how to relate to each other – though from an added extreme than most siblings find themselves – and with that, McElfresh crafted a fantastic story. Though revolving around deaf culture and the differences between the hearing and deaf, anyone with siblings close in age can relate to the story. Who doesn’t remember the petty fights – arguing over chores, personal space, privacy, friendships – with their siblings? Readers can also relate to Jade’s feeling of not knowing how to fit in – even among her own family.
McElfresh’s new book is a great recommendation for children and young adults. It’s a pretty quick read that will hopefully leave the reader with new insights. Strong Deaf conveys a message that is much-needed among young siblings trying to move from rivalry to maturity.