Darkest night of the year, or as I like to call it, “Mascot of 2016.” Seriously. But it IS a holiday, and I should damn well act like it. So I’ll do something super happy, and review a new favorite book! Turn On The Light So I Can Hear by Terry Kanefield. Way better than reminiscing on the shit that was 2016. I mean, I’m not even doing a “Best of 2016” book post. I simply cannot write “Best of 2016” without throwing up in my mouth a little bit.
Have I mentioned I’m deaf? I have? Ok, good. Let’s start with that.
Being deaf is normal to me, but weird to hearing people. I get it, you cannot imagine a silent space. You’re bombarded every day by a bajillion sounds. I know. I remember. I used to be just like you. Ok, no, I don’t remember, but my hearing was better than it is currently, so I heard a whole hell of a lot more than I do now. (I really miss the sounds of birds. That must seem strange.)
And to be quite honest, as strange as we seem to hearing people, hearing people are strange to us. Like, why are you killing your own hearing with earbuds turned to “liquefy?” You people are weird. And unexpressive. Moving on! (I love you anyways, in spite of your strange reliance on tone instead of wild gestures and extreme facial movements.)
This is Amber Galloway Gallego, and she’s pretty much my favorite. I think John Mayer should hire her to stand in front of him while he sings because it would prevent some awkwardness…
Turn On The Light So I Can Hear is one of the best representations of a HoH/deaf relationship I’ve read.
But, it’s not your typical romance. It’s more like a “come to Jesus” moment wrapped in a romance.
The protagonist Bretna is an artist down on her luck. She’s lost the fellowship that’s kept her afloat and she needs a gig. Not having any sort of support system, and no family to speak of, in a fit of bad choices she takes a job as a sign language interpreter and tutor to a resistant deaf boy, Alex.
Convincing the bosses that she’s right for the job, (and not being thoroughly tested) she scrambles to learn sign language in just three months. Her instructor happens to be a handsome deaf man named Curtis.
Bretna thinks dating the instructor is a sure-fire way to speed up her ASL comprehension, but, uh oh, Curtis doesn’t date hearing women.
But neither one can stop the chemistry from bubbling over.
This novel deals with a lot of tensions and themes typical of deaf/hearing relationships. First, the parents and school where she teaches are confirmed oralists. Her boyfriend, Curtis? Anti-oralist. If you don’t know what oralism is, it is the eschewing of specialized deaf education and reduction of the importance of sign language in favor of mainstreaming the deaf student and forcing them to rely more heavily on alternative methods for coping/living such as lip-reading and adapted learning practices. And, I will tell you, I used to be a confirmed oralist. This is because I had enough hearing that it worked for me, so I thought–mistakenly–that it should work for everyone. “Anything you can do I can do!” But that’s simply untrue. As my hearing deteriorated, so did my opinion of oralism. Truth be told, it wasn’t working for me anymore. And I understood.
I lived my life trying to conceal the fact that I wasn’t exactly like everyone else by being nothing like anyone else. While I believe that the silence thrust upon me has had a profound impact on my personality, my profound deafness doesn’t need to silence the quieter parts of who I am.
And that’s where oralism forces us to go. I’m not as anti-oralism as Curtis. I understand the benefits of lip-reading and the fun of knowing many more people than I would being only a part of the deaf community, but it is a mistake to think that separation in some arenas means instant shunning in others.
Sometimes, it’s helpful just to watch the loudness of people like you. And this book GETS that.
It also deals with something MANY hard of hearing people struggle with–the desire to hide or deny their deafness, and then being impotent to repair their deafness because hearing aids cost so.damn.much. Bretna is significantly hard of hearing herself, but she has the kind of hearing loss that is really helped by aids, but those? They cost thousands of dollars. They’re out of reach of SO many HoH people. I know people who drove eight hours to Canada just to get something our government should provide for free.
The story is more than deafness, though. Obviously, because,
deaf people are more than deafness.
Ms Kanefield crafts a narrative that is captivating and lively. Bretna’s history, and how that affects her present, makes the challenges she faces feel even more crucial. She banishes the notion of a perfect family while highlighting the fact that perfection is really found in the imperfect. This is not a bodice-ripping romping romance, but rather the slow-moving storm that is able to turn the characters’ world on their heads in the best way. She writes growth by hiding the growing, and that isn’t easy to do. It is a great example of “show don’t tell.” Which seems really fitting for a deaf narrative.
Alas, she really doesn’t exist on social media, so I’ll just have to sign her praises alone. <img src="https://s.w.org/images/core/emoji/72×72/1f609.png" alt="