Friday, January 14, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb

The last book I read was Antony John's 'Five Flavors of Dumb'.
The basic plot is this: High-schooler Piper, through a weird turn of circumstances, becomes the manager of her Seattle school's resident punk band. The twist is, Piper is deaf.  I was drawn to this book because I have a passing interest in Deaf culture. I don't recall ever seeing a YA book with a deaf protagonist before, and was so happy when I found it at my library.
I appreciated that some nuance of deafness was portrayed, as opposed to full hearing or total deafness. Piper's deafness is described as 'moderately severe', and she wasn't born deaf, she lost most of her hearing at a young age due to genetics. She has a hearing aid which allows her to hear a certain amount of sound, though it's not very useful sound unless it's close, clear and there's not much other sound going on in the vicinity. She is also good at reading lips. While I was initially disappointed at the book having her lip-read, I later realized that just because you can't assume a deaf person can read lips, doesn't mean no one, hearing or not, can ever read lips. And there's nothing in the book that indicates that it's common. Piper just says that she's really good at it. The most important thing in terms of whether or not the book too 'the easy way out', was whether her hearing aid and lip-reading 'normalized' her in terms of her interaction with others, and functioning in a world that assumes hearing. And it did not. She still had special needs, or at least special preferences. She felt whole, but different.
That leads me to another thing I liked about the book. She busted stereotypes of disabled people in the media. She was neither the patient saint, nor the angry, fiercely-independent 'there is absolutely NOTHING wrong with me' person who gets offended at the slightest hint that there are some things that are harder for her. She has plenty of angst with specific people who treat her like she's something broken that ought to be fixed, but she doesn't seem to have angst with herself and her abilities.

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