Written By: Ann Clare LeZotte
For Ages: YA middle grades and up
Language: English, verbal descriptions of Sign Language
Topics Covered: Own Voices, Historical Fiction, Sign Language, Martha’s Vineyard Sign Language (MVSL), Deaf Community, Eugenics, Indigenous Peoples, Enslavement, Racism.
This book is fantastic. I was so excited to see that there was A) an Own Voices books about the Deaf community and B) taking place on Martha’s Vineyard! For those of you who don’t know, Martha’s Vineyard is an island off the coast of Massachusetts that used to have the highest concentration of Deaf folks, about 25% of the population. I capitalize the word Deaf here because it is a proper noun denoting a community, whereas the condition itself is not capitalized. However, each individual identifies differently so check with any Deaf or HoH folx that you know! The entire island had a dialect of sign language which has since been lost to time, called MVSL. Hearing islanders were bilingual, because everyone signed! It was an example of a community that did not marginalize people based on hearing, unlike the main land where the majority of Deaf individuals were institutionalized. This book is historical fiction, and gets into the nitty gritty of eugenics, racism, and the colonization of the Wampanoag that occurred on the island. It takes place before ASL was conceived, and prior to Laurent Clerc opening his school for the Deaf in 1817.
Mary Lambert is a young girl, growing up on the island in a family of mixed hearing and Deaf members. She and her parents are still grieving the loss of her older brother, who was killed in an accident less than a year prior. A man comes to the island with the notion of figuring out what causes the high percentage of deafness on the island. I won’t spoil the ending, or the plot twist that shocked me, but you definitely need to check this book out! It brings up so many great topics of conversation, and I loved Mary’s narration while she worked through trying to understand her mother’s racism towards the Wampanoag population, which she (like her father) think is ridiculous and unfair. In the back is a fantastic author’s note with a lot more historical information about the island and the populations that lived there.
Ann Clare LeZott
Ann Clare LeZotte is a Deaf librarian, and the author of T4, an ILA Notable Book for a Global Society, which Booklist called “a powerful debut.” Her second novel, Show Me A Sign, received three starred reviews and was hailed by Kirkus as “a must read.” For years, Ann has given book talks, and disability and anti-bullying presentations in American Sign Language (ASL). Ann says, “I never had a romance about being ‘special’ or ‘different.’ I wished long and hard to be normal. A waste of time and a heartbreak I don’t want other young people to experience.” In her free time, Ann enjoys swimming and walking her dog Perkins. She lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida.
Check out Ann’s interview with WNDB here!