Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
This funny perceptive graphic novel memoir about growing up hearing impaired is also an unforgettable book about growing up, and all the super and super embarrassing moments along the way.
Disclaimer: I am not Deaf nor hard of hearing, but I have briefly studied American Sign Language/Deaf culture. So basically, I have some previous knowledge of the Deaf community but am in no way connected to it.
Cece is a young girl who loses her hearing at the age of four and struggles to make friends in school who are simultaneously accepting of her “different-ness” and aware of the accommodations that she needs to be able to understand what is going on around her.
Considering most of what I knew about the Deaf community beforehand is knowledge of current times, it was interesting to see a depiction of life in the Deaf community during the 1970s. For example, I remember doing a report on how Marlee Matlin led the movement to make closed caption more widely available, but I didn’t even think about how this story takes place before that. So it caught me off guard when Cece can’t understand television shows because there are no captions. This adorable story exposed me to the struggles that this community dealt with before getting to where it is today.
The best part of this story is how Cece begins to see her Phonic Ear (hearing aid) as a superpower when she realizes that the microphone her teachers are required to wear let her hear them from wherever they are in the building. After this, Cece becomes, El Deafo! Which is basically a reclamation of a term she sees used on television to insult a Deaf boy. Cece then starts to create fantasies of defeating villains, people who are inconsiderate to her deafness and feelings. When she finally meets a friend that respects her and doesn’t treat her like she’s stupid, she includes this friend, Martha, as her sidekick. The superhero metaphor is very cute and very crucial to self-acceptance. It’s perfect for the middle-grade audience this is for.
The most important part of the story is that Cece also goes through childhood struggles that almost everyone goes through. Between first crushes that we deny are crushes because we’re too embarrassed, and worrying that our grades won’t meet our expectations or those of our parents/teachers, Cece faces it all! It really goes to show that despite her need to wear a hearing aid, Cece is undoubtedly just like everyone else.
Additionally, the author Cece Bell includes a note in the back of the book highlighting some key points of being a part of the Deaf Community. This is worth the read as well because it never hurts to be aware of others’ experiences.
Final Thought: El Deafo is a beautiful own voices book, and I’m sure everyone can relate to the journey Cece partakes on to accept her differences from the rest of the world. Not only is this a beautiful emotion-focused story, but it helps to educate the hearing community of things we take for granted. Five stars!