True Biz gives readers an honest portrayal of the Deaf community

 True Biz by Sara Novic is a novel about the students and staff of River Valley School for the Deaf as they navigate between the Deaf and hearing worlds, new relationships, and the threat of their school closing down. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys the young adult genre or is interested in learning a little about Deaf culture and history.

The three main characters of the book are Charlie, a Deaf student who has been deprived of sign her whole life and struggles to switch between the Deaf world at school and and hearing world at home; Austin, another Deaf student who has been within the Deaf community his whole life coming from a multigenerational Deaf family who’s very proud of who they are; and February, the head of school at River Valley who is a CODA (child of a Deaf adult) who’s been within the community her whole life.

This novel has something for everyone. Deaf readers get to see their community represented in an honest portrayal. Hearing readers learn about various topics within the Deaf community and ASL (American Sign Language) such as the debate around cochlear implants, the meaning of “true biz” (it’s a sign without a direct English translation but it’s the equivalent of saying “for real!” or “no joke!”), the history behind BASL ( Black ASL— the language born out of segregation of Deaf schools), and MVSL (Martha’s Vineyard Sign— regional sign that was used in Martha’s Vineyard). I personally really enjoyed learning about a culture that is not my own and some of the history.

 In between chapters, Novic includes breaks within the story to teach Deaf history, helpful signs, ASL grammar, and, classifiers (Classifiers are designated handshapes and/or rule- grounded body pantomime used to nouns and verbs). This breaks down concepts in a way that is helpful to those who may be interested in sign but have a hard time understanding the less concrete aspects of the language. 

Novic, like the character of Charlie, is Deaf but had mainstreamed just like Charlie. Novic had been born hearing and lost her hearing in middle school so she hadn’t really known any Deaf people or the language. This is a fact that increases the honesty of the character because she has experienced the life that she is writing about. 

Perhaps this is why the characters felt very real to me. Contrary to many YA novels today where the characters often talk in ways different from what you’d hear the average teen say, all of these characters were so honest and dealt with real problems that I could feel for them even though we didn’t have the same life experiences. 

I would describe this book as coming of age with a little bit of romance. As someone who doesn’t prefer romance I was still able to enjoy the book; so I think that everyone despite their genre preferences will like the book. I liked it so much I read it twice! For anyone who’s looking to learn more about the Deaf community or just wants a riveting story, I would definitely recommend True Biz by Sara Novic.


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