TITLE: El Deafo
AUTHOR: Cece Bell
PUBLISHER: Harry N. Abrams
RELEASE DATE: September 2, 2014
GENRE: Junior Graphic Novel, Memoir
PAGE COUNT: 233
El Deafo is an utterly adorable Own Voices graphic novel based on author Cece Bell’s own childhood experience of severe deafness. One of the many wonderful things about this book is how it avoids representing deafness as a disability. Although Cece faces plenty of adversity in the form of loneliness, being misunderstood, and toxic friends, she ultimately uses her Phonic Ear hearing aid as a superpower to become the hero, El Deafo. This is a universally relatable and informative story for junior and middle grade readers that inspires compassion and respect for differently-abled people.
Mom thinks “special” means “great” or “cool”. IF ONLY! “Special” means “you’re not like me! You’re weird!” I HATE that word! – page 115
With its cast of bunny characters, El Deafo is cute, colourful, and funny. In her author’s note, Cece Bell explains that her aim was to capture the feeling of being a deaf child. I believe she completely succeeds. I loved her realistic portrayal of growing up as an introvert, and her visual communication of emotion is very age-appropriate and accessible—she represents loneliness by drawing Cece inside an actual bubble, and shows her inner thoughts through daydreams in which El Deafo speaks up for the shy and awkward “real life” Cece. I loved reading about her thoughts and experiences because they reminded me of being a kid. Even if you can’t relate to Cece’s deafness, her experiences of navigating social awkwardness will be close to the heart of many junior readers.
Superheroes might be awesome, but they are also different. And being different feels a lot like being alone – page 46
El Deafo is a fantastic starting place for readers of all ages who may not have seen accurate representations of deafness elsewhere (I wish I read this book when I was 10 instead of 22). Cece’s story gives us the opportunity to learn more about the challenges deaf people face, especially how other people treat her—some assume she’s intellectually impaired, some make if impossible to lipread by speaking slowly and loudly, some parade her around as a trophy deaf friend. Cece’s story confronts countless misperceptions people hold about deaf people, and shows that making assumptions makes you look like a bully or an idiot! Over and over, people in Cece’s life fail to remember that a differently-abled person is still a complete person.
I strongly recommend El Deafo to parents, teachers, and junior readers as a wonderful way of expanding awareness of our deaf community. Whether Cece’s story validates your experience of growing up deaf, or you recognise Cece’s struggles with making friends, fitting in, and believing in herself, this is a heartfelt and important book.