by Alex Gino
Overall: 5 out of 5 stars
When Jilly’s baby sister, Emma, is born, they learn that she is hard of hearing. While her parents hang back and investigate their options, Jilly throws herself into learning American Sign Language. Bolstered by her friendship with a Deaf boy through an online forum for fans of her favorite fantasy series, she tries to contribute to her parents’ decisions. Her bull-in-a-china-shop approach alienates Derek, who she knows by his online handle Profound, and who she has a crush on. Meanwhile, racial tensions in Jilly’s extended family come to a head at Thanksgiving, when her uncle and grandmother show their racism, overtly and subtly, respectively, and alienate Aunt Joanne’s wife, Aunt Alicia. Joanne and Alicia storm out of Thanksgiving with their two Black children and do not return for Christmas. These events, alongside two murders of Black teens by police, kickstart conversations between Jilly and her parents, who admit that they had sought to protect her from worry by not talking about it. Jilly wisely (with Aunt Alicia’s counsel) advises them to talk about things – with her and with others. Jilly herself stands up when her family continues to say hurtful things even in Alicia’s absence.
I really appreciate seeing the conversations and the language that I’m seeing in my circles reflected in a more national platform. Ideas such as white allies stepping in and educating other white people when they commit micro-aggressions (or macro ones, for that matter), not avoiding talking about race with our white families, apologizing when you make mistakes (and you will make mistakes). Aunt Alicia is amazingly patient with Jilly. Derek is less patient, but the micro-aggressions that affect him are perhaps more realistic and detailed, and also hit on both misunderstandings around Deaf culture and deafness and on racial bias and racism and micro-aggressions. He informs Jilly that her sister’s cochlear implant is not her decision or his so he couldn’t weigh in on it and she can’t either. In the end, her parents have to make the decision for her, and for themselves. (They do end up going with the implant but also embracing ASL. I appreciated the two codas at the end so we can see how things turned out.)
Of note is that the first audiologist they visit views hearing loss as something near catastrophic and to be avoided at all costs. They are advised to proceed as soon as possible with surgery on their newborn and to not “confuse” Emma by signing to her. Jilly’s parents are going through a lot and overwhelmed so their reaction to this audiologist isn’t clear until a while later, when they reveal that they had “differences of opinion” with her and sought a new audiologist. Gino’s author’s note states that, sadly, audiologists like her do exist, but that Deaf culture is to be celebrated and encouraged. Teaching children ASL does not confuse them or inhibit them. There are more details in Gino’s author’s note about that and about white allyship, and they detail all the people they consulted when writing this book, and asking forgiveness from people of color in having two Black people murdered as part of the story.