Sunday, December 17, 2023

The Sign for Home

The Sign for Home
  The Sign for Home
Author:  Blair Fell
Publication Information:  Atria/Emily Bestler Books. 2022. 416 pages.
ISBN:  1982175958 / 978-1982175955

Rating:   ★★★

Book Source:  I received this book through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "Sniff."

Favorite Quote:  "Maybe it just feels safer hanging in a world that isn't my own? An outsider being more comfortable with other outsiders."

The sign for home is literal. In American Sign Language, if you intend "home" to be the place you live, the sign is to bring your fingers and thumb together, touch your cheek near the side of your mouth, and then move your hand an inch or two toward your ear and touch your cheek again.

Arlo Dilly, the main character in this book, is deafblind. He lives with his "uncle" Brother Birch. He has a service dog and an interpreter Molly who has been with him a very long time. Arlo's uncle and interpreter have been his primary caretakers since his mother passed away. That childhood includes a boarding school, a tragedy at that boarding school, a home with his uncle, and a very strict way of life that limits Arlo's access to the outside world. Arlo's life is regulated by the the Jehovah's Witnesses faith as interpreted by Brother Birch.

A need to take a writing class at the community college brings a new interpreter Cyril into Arlo's life. Through Cyril, Arlo discover that the limitations placed on his life are not all due to the fact that he is deafblind but also due to Brother Birch and Molly's vision for his life. That includes the "facts" he has been told about the past.

What ensues is Arlo growing up, finding his independence, a renegade adventure and rescue with a ragtag group of friends.

What I love about this book is all I learn about the deafblind community, the resources available, the challenges, and the crucial role of interpreters:
  • "English is just not your first language. American Sign Language is. Writing in a language that you've literally never heard is like battling monsters with your hands tied behind your back."
  • "DeafBlind people who use TSL will express themselves the same way as any sighted ASL user. But when they 'listen,' rather than using their eyes the DeafBlind consumer will place their hands on top of the person's with whom they are communicating, feeling the signs."
  • "The brain starts to miss things after just twenty minutes of nonstop interpreting, and sign language interpreters are at risk of repetitive stress injuries."
This book also highlights the risk of abuse towards DeafBlind individuals as happens with Arlo and his friend. Their world is defined by how others communicate it. That is an important understanding. However, the book presents a somewhat one-sided view of this. Other than the new interpreter Cyril, the remaining people in Arlo's life are portrayed in a negative light.

Unfortunately, the author goes further and puts it into the context of a faith. The only retraction to that is a statement close to the end of the book. "Can you fathom the idea that you shouldn't judge an entire religion by the actions of one person?" However, for the remainder of the book, it is more the belief system than the one person that comes across as the villain of the book. I do not have much knowledge of the faith; however, an individual's actions are that individuals. In this case, that addition muddies the story.

The ending of the book is perhaps not quite realistic. Life is not that neatly packaged, and issues not that easily resolved. Regardless, I am glad to follow Arlo's story for all that I learn about the real world from his story.

Please share your thoughts and leave a comment. I would love to "talk" to you.

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