Published by Blink on August 13, 2019
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult, Romance
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“It’s time we see more Deaf characters in books. It’s time we see more books celebrating sign language and Deaf culture,” said author Alison Gervais.
Deaf teen Maya moves across the country and must attend a hearing school for the first time. As if that wasn’t hard enough, she also has to adjust to the hearing culture, which she finds frustrating—and also surprising when some classmates, including Beau Watson, take time to learn ASL. As Maya looks past graduation and focuses on her future dreams, nothing, not even an unexpected romance, will not derail her pursuits. But when people in her life—Deaf and hearing alike—ask her to question parts of her Deaf identity, Maya stands proudly, never giving in to the idea that her Deafness is a disadvantage.
The Silence Between Us: Features a Deaf protagonist and an #OwnVoices perspective on Deaf and Hard of Hearing culture.
TODAY WE DO SELF PORTRAIT, Kathleen signed as the art teacher spoke. DRAW WHO YOU THINK YOU ARE.
Who was I? That was not a question I could answer very easily anymore. I had ambitions for my future. But who was I right now? A Deaf girl suddenly dropped into the middle of a hearing world I was positive I didn’t belong in anymore.
High school is hard enough.
Add it being a new high school in a new state.
Add it being Maya’s senior year.
Add that her new school is inexperienced in dealing with Deaf students.
The first couple of chapters quickly sets the stage for Maya’s new life in a school filled with people who don’t understand her and so ignore her or patronize her. Maya quickly sees that even the best-meaning teachers have no idea how to handle her—speaking to her interpreter, rather than her; talking loudly and exaggeratedly, making lip-reading more difficult; or just being overly enthusiastic about having “someone like her” at the school. Maya just wants to blend in, but with a “peer mentor” named Nina and Kathleen, her interpreter, following her around—well, it just wasn’t quite working.
The early part of The Silence Between Us is spent world-building, helping readers understand Maya’s world and subtly teaching readers how Deaf people view the hearing world and correcting misconceptions that readers may have about Deaf people. You see through Maya’s eyes the struggle she goes through daily of people not understanding her, trying to pander to her, or seeing her as some sort of anomaly.
When Beau, the student body president and all-around good guy, tries to strike up a friendship, Maya has a difficult time believing that he is genuine and sincere. Beau is ignorant about Maya’s experience as a Deaf person—this gets illustrated early on in the book by his amazement Maya can speak—but he’s willing to learn and genuinely wants to get to know her.
Even then, Maya has a difficult time letting him into her life, both because of the natural external struggle of communication but the internal struggle of not being confident in her identity. You begin to see Maya’s pride in her Deafness, but also her insecurities in relating to a hearing world.
As The Silence Between Us progresses, Gervais treats readers to a deepening of friendships—Beau, Nina, and Melissa—and how Maya’s relationship with each of them is different and unique. The love story between Beau and Maya is simple and sweet, not at all pretentious or overbearing, just two people who’ve found each other and feel comfortable and seen by the other.
Gervais handles the unique aspect of transposing ASL and lip-reading to the written page in a magnificent way. Signed words are written in all-caps and use ASL grammar. Primary English speakers tend to finger spell more difficult words and lapse into English grammar. When Maya is lip-reading, the text often trails off with ellipses … the reader to pay … understand the context. When necessary—like if Maya misses the understanding—Gervais fills the readers in. But often, readers are left to experience the world the way Maya does and it’s a refreshing and authentic perspective.
The Silence Between Us is a stunning story in its own right, but the issues that come up through the story give it a weightiness and wonder that’s rare for a YA coming-of-age tale. There’s no trying to make Deafness an analogy. Gervais doesn’t try to make the character identify with the reader; she forces the reader to identify with the character. And that’s the beauty of fiction. It allows us to see through someone else’s eyes and to hear (or not hear) through their ears, to understand and empathize with their lived experiences and make ourselves a more understanding person as a result. The Silence Between Us is a beautiful work of art.