True Biz” by Sara Nović

Review by Yvonne Selander, collection development librarian

The boarding school River Valley School for the Deaf is where our protagonists come together. Austin is multi-generation deaf and is the golden boy of the upper classes. While his father is hearing, his world is upended when his baby sister is born hearing. Charlie’s divorced parents reluctantly come to the agreement to send her to deaf school. Her mother is still reeling that the cochlear implant is hurting more than helping her daughter. February, the headmistress, is hearing but born of deaf parents. She is running the school and trying to keep her marriage and life together knowing that the school may close and her students will lose their refuge. 

This book is a glimpse into the deaf community and the rich language and culture surrounding ASL and the various dialects. The paradigm shift of seeing deafness as a disability to instead a thriving culture/language was jarring for me who is hearing and hasn’t made many deaf acquaintances. There are some storylines unique to the deaf community and there are others that any community can relate to: falling in love, struggling to fit in and wanting to fight for what you care about. The characters are well-developed and make good and bad choices, and we’re with them every step of the way.

If you are an audiobook listener, or even if you aren’t, I highly encourage you to listen to this book. I was skeptical at first – how would they be able to show that a conversation was in sign language in an audio format? In the print these conversations are italicized. For the audio there is static and clicks as background noise to indicate a change to sign language. It is a mechanism that works much better than I expected and helped immerse me into the book just like an accent for speech in another language.