Our group discussed El Deafo, a charming graphic novel by Cece Bell. The novel tracks the experience of a young girl with significant hearing loss who must use a phonic ear and other adaptive technologies to hear and communicate with her family and friends. It touches not only on the challenges Cece faces as a child with hearing loss, but also her search for acceptance and friendship in a class full of peers with “normal” hearing abilities.
I was impressed by a few of the techniques the author used to convey Cece’s hearing loss and the sense of confusion she feels when trying to understand her “hearing” family and peers. In particular, I thought the author’s use of gibberish to represent the trouble Cece has understanding spoken language and the author’s use of text size and color to show the volume of spoken words were very effective techniques. I also thought the author very effectively conveyed the troubled, sometimes painful dynamic of feeling like an outsider at your school.
I didn’t realize the novel is autobiographical until I read the blurb at the end. As I mentioned in our discussion, the realization that the novel is autobiographical greatly deepened my understanding of it. Before that, I couldn’t understand why the story appeared to be set in the mid-1980s and why it contained references to bands (Van Halen?!) and technologies (LP records) that its target audience might be unfamiliar with. I certainly developed a stronger feeling of empathy for Cece once I knew that her experience and the author’s were one and the same.
I would be interested to present El Deafo to a group of young people to see how they respond to it. I think young people today would better understand and appreciate the struggles of their disabled peers. I wonder whether they would link Cece’s challenges to events in their lives, or whether they’d see Cece as just another weird kid. I also wonder whether they would relate to the complicated dynamics of school-aged children as portrayed in the book. My three-year-old niece is a little young for El Deafo, but in a few years perhaps I’ll read it with her and see what she thinks!