Tuesday, December 30, 2014

El Deafo by CeCe Bell

Rating: 5 out of 5 stars
233 pages

El Deafo is a graphic novel based on author and illustrator Cece Bell's experiences as a child dealing with significant hearing loss. It opens with Cece as a four-year old enjoying her life with her family and her friend Emma until one day she gets extremely sick and is taken to the hospital. She suffers from meningitis and stays in the hospital for a long time to recover. When she gets healthy enough to go home things are different, but she doesn't know what has changed. Soon her parents take her to an audiologist and discover that Cece has lost most of her hearing. The doctor gives her a hearing aid that comes with a pouch and has cords attached to it. The hearing aid helps her, but she has difficulties comprehending words.

Cece goes to a kindergarten class with other deaf children at Fisher school and they learn how to read mouths and take visual cues to help them understand what people are saying. At the end of the summer her family moves away and Cece goes to a new school. She gets a new hearing aid called the Phonic Ear that comes with a microphone her teacher has to wear. She hears her teacher Mrs. Lufton wherever she goes, even when the teacher uses the bathroom, which makes her giggle. She views it as a secret superpower. Cece feels lonely until she becomes friends with Laura. They are best friends in first grade and still friends in second grade, but Cece feels uncomfortable with how bossy Laura is. She doesn't allow Cece to make new friends and tells her what to wear and what to do all the time. On top of that Laura allowed Cece to get bit by her dog and laughed at her. Cece evaluates this friendship and prays they get different teachers in third grade. Cece ends up in a different class and makes a new friend named Ginny. She likes Ginny a lot, but feels like Ginny makes a big deal about her hearing and talks loud and slow to her on purpose. Ginny and Cece have a fallout after Cece yells at Ginny in frustration. They don't talk for a while after that. While Cece is watching television with her older brother and sister Ashley and Laura she sees a character wearing hearing aids just like hers. Someone calls that character "Deafo". When her sister tells her that Cece laughs and decides to call herself "El Deafo" imagining herself in a superhero costume.

Cece is invited to Ginny's sleepover weeks later and Cece is excited to go. There are awkward questions about Cece's deafness at the sleepover initially, but they settle in and have fun. When the guests have fun conversations after the lights are turned off Cece feels left out and asks Ginny's mother to call home. Cece imagines how the sleepover would have went if she were El Deafo. In the beginning of fourth grade a student who knows sign language starts signing to Cece and she is very disturbed, especially after her mother suggests they should learn sign language together. Her mother takes her to sign language classes and Cece hates them. She doesn't want people signaling her out and treating her like she's "special". Cece befriends a third grader named Martha and is relieved that she doesn't appear to know about her hearing problem during a sleepover. But Martha notices that Cece turned off her hearing aids when she started falling asleep and asks her "Did you just turn your hearing aids off on me?" Cece is surprised she knows and Martha tells her that the neighborhood kids told her. Cece decides that Martha can now be her superhero sidekick "True Friend". Over the summer Cece and Martha have lots of fun. New neighbors move in and Cece falls for a boy her age named Mike. Martha talks to him and he says they can use his trampoline. Cece imagines El Deafo hypnotizing Mike into liking her. When Cece and Martha play tag Cece runs into a tree branch and hurts her eye. She starts bleeding and Martha is sick with guilt. Martha avoids her for months after that.

Cece learns that her new teacher is Mrs. Sinklemann and that Mike and Ginny will be in her class. One the first day of school Cece feels weird about giving her teacher the microphone, but she relaxes as she begins to enjoy the class. One day during an exam Cece can't see the words on the board and asks a student next to her to tell her what it says. Mrs. Sinklemann gives her a zero on the test. Cece is distraught when she explains the situation to her mother. On Saturday Cece gets glasses and feels better again. One day in P.E. the teacher drops the microphone and breaks it, leaving Cece without a hearing aid for several weeks. When Cece's dad gives her a cool pencil from a business trip, a mean boy at the bus stop breaks it and makes Cece cry. During school Mike accompanies the mean boy to Cece and makes him say sorry. A new microphone arrives and Cece is genuinely happy when she gives it to Mrs. Sinklemann. Cece and Mike are selected to wear pajamas on stage for a sixth grade presentation. While they are on stage Cece starts laughing and Mike is curious. He asks her what she was laughing about and after some hesitation she reveals that she can hear Mrs. Sinklemann "wherever she is in the entire school building" and she heard her using the bathroom while they were on stage. Mike suggests Cece meet him at his house after school to try something. Cece dreams about their first date on the bus ride home. Mike explains that he'll walk downtown with her microphone to see how powerful it is. As Mike walks away and Cece listens to him other neighborhood kids ask Cece what's going on. When she tells them what she and Mike are doing they are very interested. Cece hears Martha talking with Mike saying that she can't talk to Cece anymore because she hurt her eye.

When Mike and Martha reach Cece, Cece asks Martha to be friends again. Martha is still scared and leaves. Mike suggests that Cece uses her hearing aid to warn the class when Mrs. Sinklemann is returning after quiet math. The class agrees to Mike's plan and they goof off and party after the teacher leaves the room. Mike asks Cece what Mrs. Sinklemann is doing now and Cece tells him she is using the bathroom. The class thinks that's cool and a girl says she wishes she had a hearing aid too. Cece has a moment of clarity: "It's crazy! For so long, I've wished that I could hear like they do. But I have something they don't have---superpowers! And it's actually fun to share them like this!" She warns them that Mrs. Sinklemann is coming back and everyone returns to their seats and pretends they were doing their math work. Ginny asks Cece why she never told her about her powers. Cece says she doesn't know. Ginny then says "Mike told me to tell you that he was right! You're a hero!" Cece confidently thinks "Of course I'm a hero--I am El Deafo!" A month later the students in Mrs. Sinklemann's class make "Warm Fuzzies" for their friends after a guidance counselor's presentation on a book about feelings. During the activity Cece evaluates her recent feelings and starts to accept herself and the Phonic Ear. She even adds a replica of her hearing aids on her fuzzies bag. She gives fuzzies to Mike, Ginny, and even Laura. On the school ride home she gives her favorite fuzzy to Martha who sits next to her on the bus. Cece tells Martha that they should start over and that's she tough. Martha finally agrees to be friends again and Cece finally tells Martha about El Deafo and her sidekick True Friend.