Where did I get this book?: ARC sent from the publisher
Summary: Moving halfway across the country to Colorado right before senior year isn’t Maya’s idea of a good time. Leaving behind Pratt School for the Deaf where she’s been a student for years only to attend a hearing school is even worse. Maya has dreams of breaking into the medical field and is determined to get the grades and a college degree to match, and she’s never considered being Deaf a disability. But her teachers and classmates at Engelmann High don’t seem to share her optimism.
And then there’s Beau Watson, Engelmann’s student body president and overachiever. Maya suspects Beau’s got a hidden agenda when he starts learning ASL to converse with her, but she also can’t deny it’s nice to sign with someone amongst all the lip reading she has to do with her hearing teachers and classmates. Maya has always been told that Deaf/hearing relationships never work, and yet she can’t help but be drawn to Beau as they spend more and more time together.
But as much Maya and Beau genuinely start to feel for one another, there are unmistakable differences in their worlds. When Maya passes up a chance to receive a cochlear implant, Beau doesn’t understand why Maya wouldn’t want to hear again. Maya is hurt Beau would want her to be anything but who she is—she’s always been proud to be Deaf, something Beau won’t ever be able to understand. Maya has to figure out whether bridging that gap between the Deaf and hearing worlds will be worth it, or if staying true to herself matters more.
𝙼𝚢 𝚁𝚊𝚝𝚒𝚗𝚐: ☆☆☆☆
September is International Deaf Awareness Month, so what better way to kick off this month with a review of The Silence Between Us?
Thank you so much to Blink for sending me an ARC of this wonderful story! I was so excited to find a story featuring a Deaf protagonist. As someone with many amazing Deaf and hard of hearing friends who is studying to become an interpreter, I’m always on the look out for books that show Deaf culture and help to bridge the gap between the hearing and d/Deaf worlds. This book did not disappoint. We definitely need more stories, especially #OwnVoices, like this one.
The first thing that really pulled me into the story was Maya’s strong acceptance of her deafness. It’s a stark contrast from most of the books I’ve read where the characters are mopey and rue the day they lost their hearing, wishing they’d rather be dead than live in a world where most things, if not all, are silent. The Silence Between Us skips the event of Maya’s hearing loss and begins with her moving from a Deaf school to a mainstream one. She’s accepted her deafness by then – embraced it even – and I find that admirable.
A teenager who has lost their hearing and reads a book where a character who’s faced the same has absolutely no hope for the future (because, well, they’re deaf now, so all the days of success and happiness are obviously gone forever) is not empowered but rather shown that deafness is a thing to be pitied. At the end of the book, perhaps the character ‘comes to terms’ with who they are now. However, The Silence Between Us presents a proud view of deafness from beginning to end. This is the sort of book the aforementioned teenager needs – one that promotes strength, hope, and self-acceptance through difficulties, not overwhelming amounts of self-pity.
I really, really loved the portrayal of deaf mannerisms versus hearing mannerisms in the story. Maya’s reaction to her classmates whenever they were shocked by something about her – “You can drive? You can speak?” – was pretty awesome. She’s confident, she’s bold, and she’s not afraid to speak up about her deafness. Melissa, Maya’s friend from her Deaf school, makes a few appearances, mainly through texts messages and video calls. Her texting style is different from Maya’s, more befitting of sign language than English (i.e., “If he learn sign what it matter?”). It reminded me so much of how my own Deaf friends write their texts, and the author added an extra touch of realism by showing the text messages between Maya and Melissa.
In addition to showing the different style in texting, the author portrayed the ASL dialogue in a way I hadn’t seen before. Whenever the characters used Sign, she wrote the dialogue in all caps. I rather liked it since it was much easier to realize when a character was signing, speaking, or thinking. And she was also able to capture the essence of the syntax used in American Sign Language. I really appreciated seeing this because I used to believe, as do most hearing people just learning about Sign, that ASL was “English on the hands” and the grammar was the same for both English and ASL. No, no, it’s not. ASL has a “complex simplicity” to it. You don’t sign word for word. It’s more “thought for thought.”
Moreover, the author’s use of ASL grammar showed how various people sign – Maya signed differently from her mom who signed differently from Beau who signed differently from Melissa. Everyone has their own “accent” when signing, how they sign what they want to say, the facial expressions they use. I love that the author decided to convey this.
Beau was hands-down my favorite character besides Maya. He reminded me a lot of myself in the fact that he was introverted, loved books better than parties, and was eager to learn Sign. Despite his few “naïve hearing person” moments with Maya, he was a very sweet and caring person and learned quickly. I think Maya was luckier than she realized.
One of the things I didn’t particularly love was how Maya could be so sensitive and touchy. She was proud of her Deafness and wanted everyone to know that, but she was also very standoffish toward most of her hearing classmates. Even when around Beau, one of the first to greet her when she arrived at her new school and who started to learn sign language to communicate better with her, she constantly over-analyzed everything as if he was only trying to humiliate her. I felt that she overreacted quite often.
As for the plot, there wasn’t a lot that happened. There was conflict and one very stressful experience for Maya and her family, but besides that the storyline was fairly average. As an avid reader of the YA genre, I expected at least a minor plot twist. The synopsis makes the conflicts in the story sound much more significant and drawn out than they truly are. They weren’t as big of a deal as I’d thought. However, I found the relatable characters and representation of ASL and Deaf culture to be worth overlooking the lack of plot. This is a fantastic book to educate hearing people about sign language and Deaf culture, and I definitely recommend it!
Since there is an overwhelming lack of d/Deaf representation in fiction, I’m glad Alison Gervais stepped up and wrote this story. I hope we see more books like this one in the future!
Have you read The Silence Between Us? What are your favorite #OwnVoices books? Let’s chat in the comments!