With my past experiences with American Sign Language (ASL) and brief experiences with the unique Deaf culture, I was captivated by the fresh perspective presented in the young adult novel Give Me a Sign by Anna Sortino (G.P. Putnam and Sons for Young Readers, July 2023). This story revolves around Lilah, a hard-of-hearing teenager, who returns to a summer camp for the Deaf and Blind as a counselor. This experience immerses her in ASL and Deaf culture, offering her a new sense of belonging in her complicated half-hearing and half-silent life.
Like many Deaf or hard-of-hearing children of hearing parents, seventeen-year-old Lilah has primarily relied on lip reading and speech training, with limited exposure to ASL for communication. However, as her hearing further diminishes, she finds that she now struggles to connect with her friends and is falling behind in school. Seeking inclusion and a place in the world, Lilah takes a job at the summer camp to learn ASL and find friendship. As expected, her time at camp becomes a transformative journey filled with developing friendships, learning ASL, and becoming a part of Deaf culture. She also has a summer romance.
Give Me a Sign effectively opened my eyes to not only the wide diversity of hearing challenges and the beauty of the unique Deaf culture, but also to the very real challenges that Deaf people face in their daily lives and in crisis situations. For example, the novel sheds light on the lack of preparedness in most communities to provide ASL interpreters when a Deaf person goes to the hospital or interacts with law enforcement. The novel shows how basic patience tends to be forgotten when communicating with individuals who cannot understand. Although Deaf individuals are not facing the same issues currently in the news, such as the unjust reporting of young Black men in their own neighborhoods, they do experience discrimination and face challenges unique to them.
Although I appreciated the insight into a culture I’m not a part of, Give Me a Sign was not a favorite story for me. Lilah’s personal growth journey was satisfying, but from the beginning of Lilah’s summer camp experience, it was clear that the author was aiming to write a “summer romance” book. Although there was nothing even remotely inappropriate in Lilah and Isaac’s relationship, and it included just a bit of kissing, I personally felt that the development of a strong friendship would have been just as significant. Introducing the romantic element added drama to the story, but for me, it distracted from the core story of Lilah’s transition from feeling like an outsider to finding a sense of belonging.
P.S. On the cover, I think Isaac is saying “Exciting!” Lilah is saying “Right!” (Tell me if I’m wrong! I’m pretty rusty in ASL.)
I voluntarily read and reviewed an advance review copy of this book provided by the publisher via NetGalley. All thoughts and opinions are my own.