Sunday, December 11, 2011

Fight to be Heard: Five Flavors of Dumb

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
Dial, 2010

People just want to be heard. No matter what your age is or where you live, it's a common trait among human beings because it's a basic need. We want to be listened to and understood and know that we are contributing to the bigger picture.

But for Piper, the protagonist in Antony John's YA novel Five Flavors of Dumb, that's easier said than done for a couple of reasons. She's never been the most popular girl in school. She has a hard time getting her parents to consider where she's coming from, let alone her peers, and as if all of that didn't suck on its own, throw in the fact that she's deaf. She started losing her hearing when she was six years old and between her hearing aids and stellar lip-reading skills, she's able to scrape by life at school and home with people who can't or won't use sign language.

All Piper wants and dreams of is to get away from her parents in Seattle and go to Gallaudet University next year, a college for the deaf and hard of hearing in Washington, D.C. Her mother's parents, both of whom were deaf, gave her money when they passed away specifically for that. However when her little sister is born deaf, her parents decide to use the money instead to give baby Grace cochlear implants.

Sick and tired of being ignored or overlooked and misunderstood by her family, Piper breaks out in a big way and finds herself the new manager of Dumb, a rock band made up as students at her school. She's smart and has big ideas, but it is challenging managing a band when you can't actually hear if they're any good or not.

I have long been interested in deaf culture. I think that American Sign Language is completely beautiful and I did my student teaching in college at a high school with a fairly large deaf education program. John, a man who actually has a fairly extensive music background, therefore had big expectations to fill for me as a reader, and I'm glad to say I think he did a solid job. The story, band members, and Piper's family all show their opinions on what it's like to be a hearing person or a deaf person and the role that sound and silence can play in our lives. There were times when I would have liked a bit more depth because at times the plot felt a bit rushed or forced. Also, it wasn't always clear to me when Piper was interacting with people via sign or if she was lip reading - this ambiguity made some situations she was in a bit too convenient if you catch my drift. On the positive side, John clearly did his homework in terms of music history, especially as it relates to Seattle, and this added a level of authenticity I appreciated.

Overall, I was happy with this book and on Goodreads I give it a 3 out of 5 stars. Piper's story is one about making sure you are heard and it's one that a lot of people should be able to relate to on one level or another.

Comments welcome and as always, happy reading!

Antony John's Website

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