Of the five books my friend @shabbygeek let me borrow, I’ve now read four, and the latest is my favorite. Five Flavors of Dumb, by Antony John, is unique and imaginative, but completely believable at the same time. He took a main character with whom many would prematurely assume difficulty relating, and made it work. Warning, this review may contain spoilers.
Piper is a high school senior who, at the age of 6, became severely deaf. As a result of her late deafness, her speaking voice was relatively clear and she, over years of practice, become an expert lip-reader. Her mother’s parents had both been profoundly deaf; and while Piper’s mother was fluent in sign language as a result of growing up with deaf parents, Piper’s dad was never too keen on learning the primary way in which his daughter wanted to communicate. So even in her own home, she’s grew up feeling isolated at times. Always an outcast at school; always “disabled” at home. She so much wanted to feel like she belonged somewhere but didn’t want to put her self out there for fear of rejection.
Through a seemingly random series of events, Piper becomes the manager of teenage rock band named Dumb (which she regularly points out was declared before her time) with a deal that she has a month to get them a paying gig. She’s motivated to make it work because she needs to replace the money in her college fund, for her long anticipated stint at Gallaudet University in D.C. (a liberal arts college primarily for deaf and hard-of-hearing students, where she’d automatically ‘fit in’), that her parents used to pay for her sister Grace’s cochlear implant. When she signs on with this band, they’re behaving more like selfish kids — incongruent in music, theory and goals — than a team focused on a single prize. By the end of the book, they’re a cohesive group, and she’s part of it, not just a manager, but a real part of this team.
When I was in college, I decided to take a few sign language classes to satisfy my foreign language requirement. I ended up liking it so much and, from what I was told, being pretty darn good at it, that I decided to complete a degree in interpreting. As a result, I spent a lot of time ‘immersed’ in the culture, not just as an aspiring interpreter but as a lover of what is truly a beautiful language. Now perhaps it’s because I have some experience with Deaf Culture, but I absolutely think John hit the nail on the head with Dumb. As you can guess, while Piper’s deafness plays a role in the book, it does not define her. It’s not the most important thing about her character. What is important is how much this little “side project” changes her life and the lives of those around her. What is important is that she learns to look past the things she notices first about people, just like people notice her deafness, and look to who they are and what matter to them. What is important is that just because she can’t hear doesn’t mean she can’t love music, love the way it moves her, speaks to her, makes her feel. What is important is that in the end, she knows she’s not alone.