Reading tastes change over time, and perhaps because of parenting my young men, recently I’ve been finding myself drawn to stories of the disability experience. In early September, I read a preview of El Deafo on The Nerdy Book Club. The review concluded with a brief video of the author, CeCe Bell, talking about some of the childhood experiences that appear in her graphic novel autobiography and showing the super-powered hearing aid - The Phonic Ear - that is key to several parts of El Deafo.
For many of us, the identifying feature of a rabbit is that they have large prominent ears. CeCe Bell drew all the characters in El Deafo's world as rabbits, perhaps as a way to emphasize how central ears are to the story, or perhaps just because she likes to draw rabbits (her previous book is an entertaining chapter book for emerging readers titled Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover).
The title El Deafo comes from CeCe turning a potential slur into a title and fantasizing how her superhero alter ego “El Deafo” would have handled certain situations. CeCe writes about real situations, some of them uncomfortable and some of them mundane. She clearly shows both the discrimination she experienced and the joys she encountered. I loved how CeCe showed us that on the inside, she was just a girl with a child and adolescent’s crushes and insecurities, which were magnified by rather than being defined solely by her hearing (or lack thereof).
The first time I read El Deafo, I found that I kept putting it down and not wanting to come back. I never quite put my finger on why, though perhaps I kept squirming at how badly she was treated by certain supposed friends during the middle-school years. I did push through to the end, though it felt like a challenge. As I struggled with what I wanted to say in this review, El Deafo grew on me and I liked it better when re-reading it to finish this review.
My county library consortium, has decided that El Deafo is an important book, and purchased 9 copies. Their optimism is rewarded by 6 of the 9 copies of this newly released book being in the hands of readers.
P.S. There is also a 2nd review of El Deafo on The Nerdy Book Club