El Deafo by Cece Bell Book Review

El Deafo by Cece Bell
Publisher: Harry N. Abrams
Release Date: September 2, 2014

When Cece Bell was four she became ill, so ill that she lost her hearing. Diagnosed as profoundly deaf, Cece had to navigate the world of the hearing as a deaf child. At school she has to wear a giant hearing aid called the Phonic Ear, which draws a lot of attention, but also has a major advantage--she can hear the teacher wherever she is in the entire school. With this secret super-power, Cece names herself El Deafo. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it's just another way of feeling different and lonely. As Cece juggles school and friends, the familiar struggle of finding self is compounded by finding who she is in the hearing world.

Yet another autobiographical graphic novel, El Deafo is about feeling different, but one with universal appeal. Although young readers will learn a lot about how it feels to be deaf, I think they will also be able to relate to having a first crush, not knowing how to make friends, feeling like an oddball, and having something that sets you apart. Using anthropomorphized rabbits, Bell carefully recreates her life, although she admits, not always in the right order.

I have to say, I was a bit torn when I first saw this book. Although I understand Bell's choice of a rabbit as her foil, I was instantly skeptical because it reminded me of all the picture books out there that use animals rather than people, mostly to avoid any issues with race. Being a book featuring a disability, I found this an odd choice, especially since it is semi-autobiographical, but once I began reading, I didn't have as much of an issue with this. My bigger concern for the book is that it is extremely didactic. The way in which Bell talks to her audience, it is clear that she is trying to teach her hearing audience about what it is like to be non-hearing. For me, the story lacked any kind of plot line or through line. This sounds petty, because this is after all someone else's life, but I think the story could have been framed in a different way that would not feel so teachy. There is also the added aspect that Cece fought very hard against the deaf world, refusing to learn sign language, which would make this book inappropriate for deaf children, once again relegating this to a learning book for the non-disabled. Intermediate level books often have a certain level of preachiness in them, some point that the author was trying to drive home, and although that is not inherently bad, it can definitely detract from the book. Especially if it is lacking in a plot.