El Deafo - Cece Bell

I'm a huge advocate of more (and better) representation of disability and diversity in literature for young readers. There are definitely some fantastic books out there, as evidenced by the Schneider Family Award selections over the last few years. I am so incredibly happy to have El Deafo out in the world and I hope it makes it into the hands of many, many children!!

Cece is your typical free spirit as a child, until one day she gets sick and loses her hearing. As if school's not tough already, now Cece has hearing aids and she has to wear a Phonic Ear strapped to her chest. When she discovers that the microphone that her teacher has to wear can be heard from all over the school, Cece decides to look at it as a superpower. Soon she is learning that not everyone sees her as abnormal and she actually finds ways to use her hearing difficulties to her advantage and to help her on the path to stronger friendships.

Bell's narrative is tragic, humorous, and emotionally poignant. Each character is fully formed, and Cece's fears around her hearing aids is something many young people will be able to identify with, either through personal experience or through time spent with classmates or friends. She navigates different schools, classes, and homes, all of which complicates her discomfort, and the fact that one of her friends is afraid to get too close after a simple accident, all makes for a complex plot that relies on personal development rather than action and adventure.

In order to cope with all of the anxiety, Cece creates a superhero alter ego that she can live vicariously through when times get really tough. But, as the book's synopsis notes, "the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different...." Her quest for a true best friend may seem hopeless at times, but is it really? Cece tries and tries again as she suffers embarrassment and finds friendship and companionship in unlikely places.

El Deafo is beautifully conceptualized, the illustrations are captivating, and many young readers will find themselves engrossed in the story right from the beginning. A story that deals with many aspects of friendship, family, (dis)ability, and growing up, Bell's graphic novel is entertaining and terribly necessary. I hope to see more books of this calibre coming out, especially where books about disability are concerned!

Highly Recommended

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