Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell
By Cece Bell
Out September 2, 2014
Part of what makes memoirs so appealing is their universality. There’s solace in the fact that no matter the individual, no matter the circumstances, we all experience moments of isolation, humor, frustration, and joy. In graphic novel El Deafo, Cece Bell presents these universal emotions from a perspective that is quite unique – that of a kid with a hearing impairment. A book that, I dare say, has never dealt with this experience so beautifully, honestly, and lovingly.
At four years old, Cece’s life changes when an illness leaves her hearing severely impaired. Fitted with a hearing aid and sent to a school for children in similar situations, she learns her ABCs and 123s, but also how to lip-read. A new school brings with it kids who don’t share Cece’s experience, and new challenges – especially in the friendship department. It also brings a new hearing aid, the Phonic Ear, which gives her the ability to hear things as never before. But when she learns she can hear things others can’t, will she use her newfound superpowers for good?
The world of best friends – Bell hasn’t forgotten a thing. In the pie chart of childhood, friendships are a pretty huge slice – that is represented well here. But the relationships don’t always play out as you might expect. Part of what makes the book relatable is that characters subtly defy expectations, including Cece, who isn’t without her moments of fallibility.
The closest comparison I can come up with is Smile by Raina Telgemeier (toon reviewed here). Both are coming of age graphic novel memoirs. While Smile deals in dental and El Deafo in hearing, the true heart of both is growing up and finding an identity.
Bell’s precise linework is a perfect match for the bright digital color palette (courtesy of David Lasky). Think of Sara Varon’s creations and you’ll get a sense of the look. The results are endlessly appealing. The panel work is straightforward and will be smooth sailing for readers who are new to the format.
Can I call it a triumph? It’s a triumph. And a one-of-a-kind. Consider El Deafo a must for your graphic novel collection.
Review copy from the publisher
Also reviewed by LibLaura5.
About Travis Jonker
Travis Jonker is an elementary school librarian in Michigan. He writes reviews (and the occasional article or two) for School Library Journal and is a member of the 2014 Caldecott committee. You can email Travis at firstname.lastname@example.org, or follow him on Twitter: @100scopenotes.
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