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El Deafo

El Deafo - Cece Bell I hate to say that this book taught me a lot about what people with hearing impairments have to deal with – not because it isn't true, but because it might make the book sound preachy. And it isn't. It's straightforward and direct and a fun, fascinating read.

The premise is simple: Cece sustains illness-induced hearing loss at a very young age, and both she and the reader must puzzle their way through a newly tricky world.

I liked two things especially about this story. First, Cece's struggles to make friends are relatable to anyone who's navigated the rough waters of public school. Whether you're currently able-bodied or not, you'll find yourself nodding and smiling, sometimes ruefully, as you read El Deafo. I especially loved seeing that I wasn't the only little kid who coped with social difficulties by developing a rich, superhero-intensive fantasy life.

Second, Cece isn't a paragon of perfection. She's a good, funny, smart kid, but she's sometimes sharp and judgmental, and she doesn't handle every situation as well as she could. She's not an innocent victim in a cruel world. She needs to give people the information they need – information she herself probably wouldn't have if she hadn't been forced into firsthand experience with her condition.

It's not intuitively obvious, for instance, that if someone's hard of hearing, turning up the volume on the TV or radio isn't much help. For Cece, it simply means that an already unintelligible sound is now unintelligible and LOUD. But that's something you have to experience or be told about to know.

It's also counterintuitive that speaking slow-ly and dis-tinct-ly can actually make things a lot harder for your hearing impaired friend. It makes lip-reading a huge pain, and your words sound really weird.

Cece doesn't speak up about these things until very late in the story. To be fair, she should have been told, by the same people who helped her figure out her hearing aid and taught her lip-reading, that she'll need to educate her friends. It's not always fun being part of someone's learning experience, but it's often necessary. Yes, some of the people around her are unkind and condescending; but plenty of them are friendly and welcoming, and often it's only Cece's insecurity that stands in the way of making more friends sooner than she does.

Oh, another thing I really liked: Although Cece develops a crush on a boy (and yay! – he's a worthy recipient of her youthful affection), the most important relationship in this story is the one between Cece and a girl who (spoiler alert) becomes her best friend. And the "WOOHOO!" ending is all thanks to Cece's hard-won ability to tell those around her who she is and what she needs.

El Deafo is sweet without being treacly, authentic without being brutal, and (for this reader) very happy-making. Definitely recommended.