Before I begin this review, I think that it is only fair to tell you that… I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK! And there is no way that my rave review can do it justice, so do yourself a favor and run out and buy a copy now! EL DEAFO is Cece Bell’s graphic memoir of growing up “severely to profoundly deaf” (p. 236). However, while Bell is true to her memories of her childhood in EL DEAFO, she presents herself and all of the characters as rabbits. I would love to ask Bell about her reasons for this, but regardless of what they are, the choice works beautifully in the story, with Bell’s storytelling style and in the graphic format.
As a result of a case of meningitis at the age of four, Bell lost most of her hearing. It took some time for the adults in Bell’s life, and Bell herself, to realize that she had lost much of her ability to hear. But after working with several doctors and specialists, Bell is outfitted with hearing aids. Being fashion conscious, one of her first concerns is how it looks, as the hearing aid is composed of a box that hangs around her neck with wires and earpieces that extend into her ears. The portrayal of the rabbit Bell with the hearing aids is quite endearing.
I. LOVE. THIS. BOOK! And there is no way that my rave review can do it justice, so do yourself a favor and run out and buy a copy now!
Even though the hearing aids have allowed Bell to hear again, she quickly discovers that she can’t understand what those around her are saying. For kindergarten, Bell is sent to a special class with other hearing impaired children. In this class, she learns to lip read and use context clues to help her figure out what others are saying. Bell returns to her neighborhood school for first grade and goes equipped with her brand new Phonic Ear, which is more powerful for school. In addition, her teachers wear a microphone around their necks that transmits their voices directly into Bell’s earpieces. Bell quickly discovers that her Phonic Ear is so powerful that she can hear her teachers anywhere in the building, even when they are using the bathroom! Bell quickly embraces this ability as a superpower and christens herself, El Deafo, the superhero.
Throughout EL DEAFO, Bell explores the common challenges of growing up in addition to the challenges of growing up while feeling different. The book follows El Deafo through fifth grade. We experience, with Bell, the struggle to make friends, the loss of friends, trying to find the right friend and the work it takes to keep that friend. We watch her blush as she develops her first crush, Mike Miller, and stammers to put together coherent sentences in his presence. We feel Bell’s frustration with the people who treat her differently --- the ones that talk too slow or too loud and even those that treat her like a baby. As a former special education teacher, I appreciated Bell’s deft handling of the issues of having a disability and losing one’s personhood to the disability.
As previously mentioned, the portrayal of the characters as rabbits was perfect. I am having trouble finding the words for what it adds to the story, but I honestly don’t think that the book would be as stunning as it is if the characters were portrayed as human, or any other animal for that matter. Bell’s mastery of the graphic novel format is evident throughout the book as well, as she uses a variety of panel sizes, shapes and styles to convey different information. The details that Bell integrates throughout the illustrations lend depth, humor and personality to each of her drawings.
As I feared, my review cannot do justice to EL DEAFO! It is a perfect book that highlights our similarities while also showcasing our differences. Laughing, crying and commiserating are possible on each and every page. I sincerely hope that this is not the last appearance of El Deafo and I know that I will be looking for my local Cece Bell fan club as soon as I finish this review.
Reviewed by Aimee Rogers on September 3, 2014
- Publication Date: September 2, 2014
- Genres: Graphic Novel
- Paperback: 248 pages
- Publisher: Amulet Books
- ISBN-10: 1419712179
- ISBN-13: 9781419712173