I’ve read a lot of books in the past almost four decades, and I can say with absolute certainty that none of them were like Sara Nović’s True Biz (Random House 2022); deaf representation has been woeful absent in my literary canon. This book is… I’m not sure I can find the words.
Part teenage angst and rebellion, part women’s fiction, part mystery, part YA romance, part history lesson and all love letter to the deaf community – this is an “own voice” novel, and Nović’s experiences, frustration and anger bleed through.
The novel focuses on February, a ‘coda’ who longed to be deaf to the point of shoving a pencil in her ear to stop the noise. She grows up to become headmistress of River Valley School for the Death. She lives with her wife, Mel, and her deaf mother on school grounds. Her mother is suffering from dementia, a new school year is starting, there are serious budgetary concerns, and an ex is teaching at the school. February is just a touch stressed.
Austin is a legacy kid, with deafness going back in his family tree for generations. His mother had broken tradition and married a hearing man, but the family takes pride in the fact that Austin was born his deaf. He has been given every accommodation and opportunity to be successful in life. When a surprise pregnancy gives him a hearing sister, the family must make some difficult choices.
Charlie is a bitter and angry kid. The cochlear implant her mother had insisted on when she was a toddler has never worked as intended, and her hearing world is a disjointed buzz. She’s never learned ASL and has spent her life mainstreamed in a hearing world where she is forced to rely on lipreading and failing miserably. After a custody battle, she is enrolled in River Valley, and February enlists Austin to show her around.
The novel opens with Austin, Charlie, and another River Valley teen missing and February dealing with the police. What follows is what led up to that moment and the aftermath.
True Biz is ASL slang that roughly translates into “real talk,” “seriously,” “really.” Nestled between the chapters are lessons from Charlie’s ASL class, lessons from February’s remedial history class on deafness, information provided by Charlie’s roommate on BASL, a social media entry from the popular “mean girl,” and other perfect additions to the story.
This book is a visual and interactive genre-hopping experience that you’re unlikely to forget.
Read this book.