fiction · YA

The Silence Between Us- Alison Gervais

I’ve been interested in sign language, deafness, and Deaf culture since I was on a fourth grade field trip to some sort of ‘Just Say No!’ retreat when I noticed an interpreter signing to a student from another school across the room. I was so utterly entranced by her signing that I don’t think I heard a word of the anti-drug presentation (no worries, I’ve never done any kind of drugs, so we’re all good). Our teacher mentioned the interpreter later on and said that she was signing to a Deaf student so that he or she could understand what was being said, and I was fascinated. In the next Scholastic book flier was The Gallaudet Survival Guide to Signing by Leonard G. Lane, my mother bought it for me, and I learned the alphabet in one night. Years later, I still know a lot of the signs I picked up as a kid and in the one class I’ve been able to take as an adult (and actually used them this summer when my daughter played with a girl whose parents were Deaf). All that to say, when I learned about The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (Blink, 2019), I was all the way in!

Maya’s in the middle of some pretty serious transitions as the story begins. She’s just moved to Colorado with her single mother and her younger brother, who has cystic fibrosis. If that weren’t a big enough change, she’ll be attending a hearing school for the first time after years at a Deaf school (having fully lost her hearing after a bout with meningitis at age 13). She’s terrified and more than a little cranky about being yanked out of her comfortable world, but she’s determined to make the best of it for her mother’s sake. Nina, assigned to be Maya’s student liaison, becomes a fast friend, and she’s luckily able to strike up a rapport with Kathleen, her interpreter. Both of these help to make the switch a little easier.

But Maya’s not expecting Beau, the popular, good-looking, super-smart student who throws himself into learning ASL in order to be able to communicate with her. Not used to dealing with hearing guys, Maya doubts his intentions at first, until it becomes clear that Beau is all heart. But Maya’s got to learn to trust herself, and to live in the hearing world as a Deaf woman in order to pursue her dreams, and far too many people refuse to make it anywhere even close to easy for her.

While Maya can be short on patience and quick to bite people’s heads off, I enjoyed her. Her instant and complete acceptance of herself as a Deaf woman is so full and so total that it almost feels radical (which is sad to say! MORE HARDCORE SELF-ACCEPTANCE IN ALL GENRES, PLEASE!) and it’s a deep breath of fresh mountain air. I LIKE MYSELF DEAF, she signs when the subject of cochlear implants (a hot topic of debate in the Deaf community) comes up, and I swear, I nearly cheered out loud when I read that. If only we could all love ourselves that much…

Maya’s first suspicions of Beau are understandable; one of his ‘friends’ at school shows her exactly how nasty some hearing people can be towards Deaf people (although there’s a totally victorious call-out scene near the end of the novel that I loved!), and the book does an excellent job at showing all the many frustrations Deaf and hard-of-hearing people face due to lack of accommodations- simple ones!- that society could easily implement in order to make our world more accessible for everyone…but doesn’t. This is really a great book to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is Deaf and learning to live in a more independent way in the hearing world and how much they’re forced to struggle in order to achieve their goals.

Excellent representation in this book, and it’s kind of wild to me that ten months into the year, this is only the second book I’ve read this year with a Deaf character (the other being Victoria’s mother in Just Visiting by Dahlia Adler). Deafness is what’s known as a low-incidence disability, but hearing loss absolutely isn’t, especially among children, and I’m curious as to why I haven’t seen more characters with hearing loss throughout my reading life. I also really appreciated Maya’s bewilderment as to why the kids with cochlear implants hadn’t also learned ASL, as that’s something that has always troubled me as well. Obviously it’s each family’s choice, but technology can fail, equipment can break, batteries and processors are expensive, and if these things happen, the implanted child (or adult!) may be left without a language or way to communicate. Why not give them access to both worlds? I was happy to see that Ms. Gervais had raised those questions and showed how what other families choose to do affects the wider Deaf community.

I also loved the inclusion of Connor, Maya’s brother who has cystic fibrosis. Ms. Gervais shows his struggle, but she also portrays how difficult it is to have a chronically ill sibling (Maya works hard in order to not add to her mother’s troubles), along with showing how stressed out Maya’s single mother gets (but tries to hide it). I did question why on earth one would move a child with a lung condition to Colorado, famous for its high altitudes where it’s harder to breathe, but I don’t know much about the intricacies of cystic fibrosis and thus there may be plenty of reasons why this was a good idea. And sometimes, when your job says go, you go, and that may have been the case for sole breadwinner Mom. Either way, I’m sure she researched the heck out of it and spoke with doctors and other health coordinators, just like any other parent would!

The Silence Between Us is a book that will make you consider and reconsider the hearing world, the Deaf world, how the two work together, and how this cooperation could be even deeper if we’re willing to put in the work (and why not? ASL is gorgeous and fun). I hope this is the beginning of more Deaf characters in YA and beyond.

Visit Alison Gervais’s website here.

Follow her on Twitter here.

7 thoughts on “The Silence Between Us- Alison Gervais

  1. I am a fan of this book, and YES! Self-acceptance is a beautiful thing, and it’s wonderful to see authors embracing this for their characters. I liked the way Gervais worked in educating us readers about the Deaf community, and how she used ASL syntax in the book. I adored the romance and the ending was so, so good

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  2. I find ASL and the Deaf community fascinating as well. I hadn’t heard of this book before, but it sounds like it’s well worth the read for many reasons. Have you heard of EL DEAFO by Cece Bell? It’s a graphic novel geared toward middle graders and it’s all about Bell’s experience with being Deaf. It’s funny and heartbreaking and illuminating. It’s a popular book at my daughter’s elementary school, which is a great thing.

    Susan
    http://www.blogginboutbooks.com

    Liked by 1 person

    1. YES!!!!!!!!!!! I loved El Deafo, such a great book. My son read it as well and enjoyed it. I love that graphic novels are getting so many reluctant readers reading, and providing enthusiastic readers another format and a way to appreciate art at the same time. Anything that gets people reading makes me happy!

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  3. Great review! I’ve also been really fascinated by sign language for years and tried to study it in university (but my university turned it down as not meeting my language requirement). And I loved the show Switched at Birth! I’m not usually a YA reader but this one sounds so good I might have to give it a try!

    Liked by 1 person

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