Friday, August 28, 2015

El Deafo by Cece Bell, 2014

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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 the teacher's 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.

(233 pages)

I don't really read comic books very often (actually, I never read comic books), but I saw so many great reviews of El Deafo that I just had to check it out. And I'm very glad I did!

This is quite the autobiography. Cece perfectly depicts the thought processes of little girls, complete with one-dimensional classmates/friends and the little embarrassments that turn into major catastrophes when you're young. The comic-book format was perfect for telling this story, and I loved the way she depicted everyone as bunnies instead of as humans, which basically lets readers fill in whatever human faces they want for the characters. Instead of making it explicitly a story about only her own childhood, Cece lets the reader choose what the characters look like (and maybe who they resemble in the reader's own life).

Speaking of that, some of Cece's experiences mirror my own - especially in the beginning, when she moves away from her childhood home. Whether you're hearing or not, it's hard to leave your friends behind, and I can totally relate to the loneliness of leaving behind everything that is familiar to you. Other parts of Cece's story are less similar to my own childhood (in large part just because I didn't grow up attending school - there's a lot less drama when your only classmates are your three younger siblings), but they still rang true as the sort of trouble that kids have growing up. Cece (the author) perfectly nails the one-dimensional way children see the world.

I'd like to think that I could take stories from my childhood, write them in comic-book form, and win a Newberry, but I have a feeling it wouldn't really be that simple. Just for starters, I can't draw - at all - so I wouldn't be able to write the comic book in the first place. Technicalities aside, though, it takes a certain type of extreme talent to so perfectly relay the experiences and attitudes of childhood without a) sugar-coating things or b) making the MC seem like a total brat. Bell does a marvelous job straddling this line with El Deafo, and I'm glad I was able to spend a few hours with the result.

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