El Deafo by Cece Bell
I was truly surprised, educated, and impressed by this book. From reading the back cover, I knew El Deafo was about a young, deaf, school-aged girl who is of course finding life a bit more complicated than most. But it’s so much more--it’s about growing up, being yourself, finding acceptance, making friends, being confused, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, and all the other things that make being a kid tough. Miss Cece Bell, the author/artist, tackles all of this, adds in the deafness of her main character, and makes the book flow so smoothly and creatively that’s it’s really quite amazing.

In a note at the end, we find out that the author has told her own story through Cece, the main character of the book. Which I suppose should have been obvious, however I guess I was just so engrossed in the story I didn’t even think about it. Miss Bell, the writer, is in her own words “severely to profoundly deaf”, so her experiences add plenty of depth and truth to the story.

The whole novel is essentially just watching Cece grow up. She becomes deaf at an early age and uses a hearing aid, which attracts a lot of unwanted attention. Later, at school, in order to hear her teachers, she uses a much bigger more obnoxious aid which is connected to a microphone the teachers wear around their necks. This thing REALLY makes Cece feel self-conscious. However, she deals with it best she can, and strives to fit in as a “normal” kid. To help with this, she imagines herself as a super hero, overcoming all her difficulties with flair and bravery. She calls herself “El Deafo”, and thus we have the title of the book.

I haven’t mentioned yet that this is a graphic novel, which turned out to be a great way to tell Cece’s story. We can see her hearing aids and watch her struggle with the way deafness impacts her life. For example, the author does a great job of writing in gibberish sometimes when Cece is among people, but also still truly lost and alone since she can’t hear or understand a word of what’s being said. So yes, going with a graphic novel format was a superior way to pull in reader interest and keep us captivated with enjoyable, clean, whimsical artwork.

One other thing that truly makes the book remarkable is Miss Bell’s decision to use these sort of walking, talking, humanoid rabbit characters to tell the story. I think these cute graphics soften the impact of the more difficult passages, making them entirely approachable and easier for young readers to absorb.

All in all, El Deafo is a wonderfully-written and designed graphic novel, highly recommended for middle grade readers, ages 8 and up. Cece is a girl so her story will likely appeal mostly to females. However, the clever rabbit-like graphics would interest boys too. And the nicely disguised life lessons contained within will help anyone learn to be more accepting and friendly to everyone they meet, not just to those who look and act the same way they do. Be sure to read this one too, if you get it for your kids. You’ll all have fun seeing Cece grow up and find comfort in her disability.

Happy Reading!