By Elizabeth Wroten
Middle Grade Review: El Deafo by Cece Bell
On 06, May 2015 | In Review | By Elizabeth Wroten
From GoodReads: Starting at a new school is scary, even more so with a giant hearing aid strapped to your chest! At her old school, everyone in Cece’s class was deaf. Here she is different. She is sure the kids are staring at the Phonic Ear, the powerful aid that will help her hear her teacher. Too bad it also seems certain to repel potential friends.
Then Cece makes a startling discovery. With the Phonic Ear she can hear her teacher not just in the classroom, but anywhere her teacher is in school–in the hallway…in the teacher’s lounge…in the bathroom! This is power. Maybe even superpower! Cece is on her way to becoming El Deafo, Listener for All. But the funny thing about being a superhero is that it’s just another way of feeling different… and lonely. Can Cece channel her powers into finding the thing she wants most, a true friend?
I really enjoyed El Deafo. It was a great friendship and growing up story. But the real endorsement comes from my three and a half year old who picked it up, drawn in by the rabbits, and flipped through it page by page for a good 15 minutes. And she’s asked to look at it again a few times. She was especially amused by the fact that Cece wears her bathing suit all the time as a little girl. Now obviously my daughter wasn’t reading the book, but she was captivated by the illustrations and not surprisingly. They are very good. Bell captures different people really well (telling people apart is something I have trouble with some other graphic novels). The colors are bright and inviting and the choice to use rabbits instead of people is awesome. It makes it a realistic fiction novel with animals!
The story itself is pitch perfect for the upper elementary/lower middle school years. Cece starts out young and hits fifth grade by the end, but her struggles with finding a true friend and trying to fit in are so relevant to that age. Sure, she’s dealing with having this giant, and to her, embarrassing hearing aid strapped to her chest and that’s what Bell wanted to write about. But we’ve all been through those other struggles. Which isn’t to say kids will like it despite the differences but will love it because all kids have something they are insecure about and the hearing aid is just what makes Cece so uncomfortable.
The friendship struggles are particularly well done (can I say that since they really happened?). Cece befriends several girls over the course of the story, but they each have their flaws. One is too bossy. One talks slowly in a misguided attempt to help Cece understand her. When she finally finds the perfect friend they have a falling out of sorts. This makes the book particularly well suited to kids who like friendship stories and realistic fiction.
Finally, I loved how long the book was. It’s still manageable for reluctant readers (who are the perfect customers for graphic novels), but it felt like a real story and a real book, not something that could have been longer or was half finished. Besides unimpressive art my biggest complaint about graphic novels is they can often feel like they should have been longer. Not so here. While any reader could pick this up and enjoy it, reluctant readers might feel a real sense of accomplishment finishing a book that feels like a book and not something overly simple and short.