I put El Deafo on hold at the library not knowing it was a graphic novel. In a way, I'm glad I didn't know. I don' t read many graphic novels, there are, of course, exceptions to every rule. El Deafo is a coming-of-age memoir in graphic novel format. I loved it. I really loved it. It surprised me in all the right ways.
It begins simply, "I was a regular little kid. I played with my mom's stuff. I watched TV with my big brother, Ashley, and my big sister, Sarah. I rode on the back of my father's bicycle. I found caterpillars with my friend Emma. And I sang. 'We all live in a yellow submarine, a yellow submarine--' But then everything changed." A childhood illness at the age of 4--meningitis--leaves her deaf.
The memoir covers many years of her childhood, from the age of four through her sixth grade year in school. In a way it is about her growing up deaf, growing up different. But in many ways, it is about so much more than that: it's about family and friendship and belonging and struggling to belong. It is about her wanting and needing a 'true' friend. It is about her mishaps in friendships. There are a few untrue friends before there is the one that is true. It is very much about identity: how she sees herself, her struggle to be comfortable with herself, to accept and love herself. Another aspect of El Deafo which I very much enjoyed is Cece's first crush.
In her imagination, she's closer to being there, in that place. She imagines that she is a superhero, El Deafo, the super-hero self stands up for herself to her friends AND her family. Her super-hero self lets others know what she's feeling, when she's mad, when her feelings are hurt, etc. Her superhero self is brave and courageous letting others know that she doesn't need people to talk really loudly or really slowly. Her superhero self lets people know that she hates it when they call her "my deaf friend" or "that deaf kid."
El Deafo is set in the 1970s, I believe. There are plenty of cultural references to place it in that decade. I really enjoyed the scenes where she was watching TV.
So, yes, El Deafo is in my opinion about so much more than growing up deaf. This book is easy to love and oh-so-easy to recommend.
© 2015 Becky Laney of Becky's Book Reviews