Sunday, February 20, 2011

Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John

Release date: 1 November 2010 (United States)
Rating: 10/10

Eighteen-year-old Piper has got herself into a mess. Because of her big mouth, she has one month to get a paying gig for her high school's hottest new rock band, Dumb. In Piper's mind, the band couldn't have a more perfect name. Just look at the members: one egomaniacal pretty boy, one silent rocker, one talent-less piece of eye-candy, one angry girl, and one nerd-boy drummer - five discordant personalities who, when put together, seem ready to self-destruct at any moment. Getting them an actual gig seems impossible. Add to that the fact that Piper doesn't know if their music is good or not, because, well, she's deaf.

But Piper is determined to get the band a gig to show her classmates that being deaf doesn't mean she's invisible. And as she gets to know the five flavors of Dumb, some hidden talents, secret crushes, and crazy rock music emerge. She doesn't need to hear the music to sell it, but Piper wants the chance to feel the music too.

This is easily one of the best young adult books I have read in my entire life. I’ve been struggling to put together a review that conveyed this and I still don’t feel like I can do it well enough. But I have to write something, because this book is wonderful. For someone that music is essentially the most important thing to and as someone that not only has a hearing loss, but is studying Audiology, this story naturally connected with me on many levels. But besides that, I think it’s a fantastic read for anyone as it gives an insight into the world of the hearing impaired and also how music can change a life.

I just knew that when he met a girl for the first time, he didn’t have to worry about how his voice sounded or whether she was freaked out by the way he stared at her lips the whole time.

My favourite character was protagonist Piper’s younger brother, Finn, for his experiences as the younger brother (and older brother to baby Grace) of a hearing impaired person. When he has a conversation with Piper about how he learned American Sign Language for her, to talk to his sister, it honestly brought tears to my eyes. The isolation Piper feels breaks my heart and her growth throughout the book is inspirational. All of the characters of Dumb (the band) are fantastic and different in their own way and the development of most of them is incredible to see.

I felt exhausted, and it wasn’t just the strain of lip-reading in a room that echoed like a cathedral.

A lot of people that have experience with being hearing impaired, knowing someone that is hearing impaired and/or has hearing aids, or works in the Deaf or hearing impaired community (as an audiologist, ENT, teacher for the Deaf, etc) probably read this and judge it compared to their own knowledge; I don’t think this is the important part. The crucial part of the story that Antony John got “right”, to me, is the small things. The frustration when someone turns away or walks off speaking when they know you have a hearing loss and then you can’t hear them anymore; the exhaustion that comes along with that extra effort it takes just to hear and to work out what is going on in a conversation; those little things that people that have had perfect hearing their entire lives generally take for granted because they have no reason not to. Whether Antony John got the specifics of what type of hearing aid a girl with a moderate-to-severe sensorineural hearing loss could have is irrelevant. He did a damn good job of conveying the experiences of a young hearing impaired person at high school and I know because I was one.

The painful truth was that each and every person who had sat on that seat before me had experienced music in a purer, more visceral way than I could even begin to imagine.

Although not significantly relevant to the storyline (so not a spoiler), I loved the part where Piper visits the house that Kurt Cobain died in and the park next door. Until that day, she didn’t even know Kurt had committed suicide, only that he was dead, and didn’t know why Nirvana were so famous. Piper sees all the messages in the park from Nirvana fans to Kurt and is saddened that she doesn’t understand how music could affect someone in such a significant way. This part particularly resonated with me. I love the fact that hearing aids these days have 'music' programs that are better suited to listening to music. There’s still a long way to go with them, but the idea of bringing music into a hearing impaired person’s life amazes me. I spent the first fifteen years of my life with a more significant hearing loss than I have now, but I still loved music (largely thanks to my mother’s obsession with it and later my brother’s). I just needed it loud, otherwise it sounded muffled, and even then I still got the lyrics all wrong and couldn't hear the instruments distinctly. The idea of a person’s hearing being too bad that music sounded like nothing worth listening is heartbreaking to me. I know there are plenty of people that music doesn’t matter to anyway, but at least they have the option to fall in love with it or not. I distinctly remember the first time I heard my favourite band with bilateral much-closer-to-normal hearing, even though it was eight years ago. It was indescribable.

She turned away. I couldn’t lip read anymore, and her words became indistinct – a really obnoxious thing to do to someone who’s hard of hearing.

I couldn’t read this book or write a review for it as anyone but someone that has a hearing loss. I know what it’s like to have the world sound muffled; the first fifteen years of my life I didn’t even know any different. But I still maintain that this book is incredible without my personal experiences and everyone should read it whom has an interest in music, life with a disability, or just a great young adult fiction story.

Please don’t put your life in the hands of a rock ‘n’ roll band.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Favourite Author Focus: Margaret Atwood

I would like to believe this is a story I’m telling. I need to believe it. I must believe it. Those who can believe that such stories are only stories have a better chance. If it’s a story I’m telling, then I have control over the ending. Then there will be an ending, to the story, and real life will come after it. I can pick up where I left off.

I first read The Handmaid’s Tale in one of the first English Literature units I did at university about six years ago. I would have loved this book anyway, because of its brilliance and creativity and intelligence. But getting the chance to analyse it in class and write essays on it was amazing; some books are ruined for me by analysing them but this one definitely made it even better. I’ve always been fascinated by books that are some kind of version of the future, which are not completely set outside the world we know. The Handmaid’s Tale is a scary look at the near future and my love for dystopian novels like this, Brave New World, and 1984 is ridiculously huge.

There is more than one kind of freedom, said Aunt Lydia. Freedom to and freedom from. In the days of anarchy, it was freedom to. Now you are being given freedom from. Don't underrate it.

Similar to The Handmaid’s Tale in terms of being about a version of the future, but without the feministic aspects, is Oryx and Crake and The Year of the Flood. I only read Oryx and Crake a couple of years ago, so didn’t have the six year wait between it and its follow-up The Year of the Flood that a lot of readers had. Since The Road by Cormac McCarthy became so popular, people said a lot about the similarities between The Road and The Year of the Flood, I think largely based on the fact that they were both simply bleak versions of the future, which I never really understood. The Year of the Flood is not so much a follow-on from Oryx and Crake, but not a prequel either – but it is set in the same future as Oryx and Crake, with some of the same characters. The Year of the Flood seemed to have received some negative reviews when it was released from people who loved Oryx and Crake, but I possibly liked it even more. I felt it was more optimistic than its predecessor, if that's possible in books such as these. On a side note, I also absolutely loved the cover of the hardcover version of The Year of the Flood; I even bought it in hardcover, which I almost never do because I’m really not a hardcover fan.

Out of habit he looks at his watch — stainless-steel case, burnished aluminium band, still shiny although it no longer works. He wears it now as his only talisman. A blank face is what it shows him: zero hour. It causes a jolt of terror to run through him, this absence of official time. Nobody nowhere knows what time it is.

I have read a few other books by Margaret Atwood (such as Alias Grace, The Blind Assassin, and The Robber Bride) and loved them, but they haven’t resonated with me as much as the three novels mentioned so far. I think readers tend to either love or hate books that are written as varied versions of the future. If you love them, you’ll probably love Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novels. If you don’t, I wouldn’t read them but perhaps try her other novels. Her writing in general is incredibly original and intelligent to me, with brilliant satirical humour and creative ideas dissimilar to anyone else I’ve read.

Beware of words. Be careful what you write. Leave no trails.