|Robb's Rambling Reviews||
Cece Bell’s, El Deafo, is part memoir, part graphic novel, and completely wonderful. Bell uses the graphic novel to explain the events leading up to the loss of her hearing and how this impacted her formative years. By ingeniously using a graphic novel format, Bell is able to develop her characters and bring them to a much wider audience than if she had used a traditional prose format. The result is fantastic. Her characters nearly jump off the page, and the comic interactions between characters creates another dimension to their personalities, something we would miss out on if it were not a graphic novel. We find her humorous characters humorous, annoying characters annoying, and all the while rooting for our hearing impaired heroine, El Deafo! Her use of the superhero serves not only as a comic aside, but shows readers another side of our protagonist, one who is outgoing, fearless, and self-assured; all of which she is not, but wishes she were.
The graphic aspect of the novel also helps Bell extend her plot by making it simple to follow and easily accessible to readers. Readers realize quickly that scenes of hospital beds, doctors’ visits, and hearing tests are leading up to something unfortunate. Bulging eyes, hearts falling from the sky, and thought bubbles full of mushy love stuff can mean only one thing after Cece meets her new neighbor, Mike. As she describes the difficulty in lip reading the television, we are treated to pictures of a small town sheriff and his inept deputy, a singing group comprised of a widowed mother and her five children, and a depression era family living in the mountains of West Virginia. These all help readers understand the setting and plot of the work without having to go into depth concerning more trivial matters.
I also learned a few things about hearing impaired folks that I would not have otherwise known. Cece is quick to explain, however, that this is her story, and of course not all hearing impaired people are the same, just as not all non-hearing impaired people are the same. I found an unexpected insight into her life as I learned that her hearing aids do not make sound clearer, they merely amplify sound. So of course if a noise is garbled, a hearing aid just makes the garbled noise louder! What a nuisance! Although I know many people tend to be overly helpful to others who are differently-abled, I was surprised to find Cece rejected assistance as a youngster not because she didn’t need it or want it, but because she didn’t want others to know she was different. Hearing aid? No thank you! Sign language? Nope! Specialized classes? Forget it! Glasses? Well, maybe…lots of people have glasses.
One of the funnier scenes in the novel deals with Cece’s microphone and hearing aids. Unfortunately, the first thing I thought was, “Been there, done that!” Throughout my years of teaching, many of my hearing impaired students have come equipped with a microphone for me to wear around my neck while I teach. This microphone is directly linked to their personal hearing aid or aids. Many years ago, while wearing my microphone (and clearly with my mind on something else) I excused myself and dashed for the restroom. When I returned everything seemed normal, with the exception of Vanessa, who was laughing so hard she was crying. When I asked her what was making her laugh so hard, she laughed harder and said “At least you wash your hands after you’re done!” I have NEVER forgotten to turn a microphone off again! I also enjoyed El Deafo for the outstanding way in which Bell teaches readers about what being hearing impaired is, and is not. By using humor and well thought out graphics, and by not being overly preachy, readers are given insights into a world unknown to many of them. I laughed, learned, and most of all, now have a greater understanding of what it means, and how it feels, to be a hearing-impaired citizen. Thank you Cece! You truly are a Superhero in my book!
Bell has chosen the perfect media by which to write her memoir. Prose? Most readers wouldn’t pick up on the subtleties of her story. Poetry? Much of her humor would be lost. Graphic Novel? You bet! Using the graphic approach allows Bell to easily develop her characters and seamlessly extend her plot and subplots. Her delightfully playful attitude and self-modesty allow readers many unexpected insights, allowing us to inadvertently learn things we normally would not. I thoroughly enjoyed my time with Bell: Bell as a shy young child, Bell as a Superhero, and Bell as a teacher. Look! It’s a bird! It’s a plane! It’s El Deafo! Thank you Cece. You rock!
Citation: Bell, C. (2014). El Deafo. New York, NY: Abrams Books.