This is a well written, moving story of one young girl's journey through death and grief after losing her father to cancer. While Abbey's story is a heartbreaking one, it is not a hopeless one. "Sign Language" is told from Abby's point of view and follows her life from the ages of 12-17 not only dealing with the slow process of her father's illness and passing but the normal challenges that come with being a teenager.
Ackley does an excellent job of bringing the reader into the heart of the story and describes the gradual dying process so vividly that you feel as if you're experiencing all the raw emotion that Abby is. (We are big Star Wars fans here and needless to say, I will never look at "Darth" the same way again.)
Abby's surrounded by people who love and care for her, like her mother, older siblings, Deanna and Josh, Spence (her longtime BFF), her friend Leise and even grumpy old Aunt Fran. Her family isn't the most demonstrative which makes it difficult for Abby to express how she's feeling, causing her to bottle things up inside. She regularly consults her Magic 8 Ball for signs or answers (who hasn't, right?) but still can't seem to find what she's searching for. School is her haven and the one place she feels she can still maintain a sense of normalcy. The only friends that know about her Dad and how serious he is are Spence and Leise and neither of them will betray her.
Her mom does the best she can but is dealing with her own feelings and Josh is the typical older brother who acts annoyed that Abby even exists most of the time but he has his moments. Deanna is Abby's older sister who is called into town occasionally to stay with she and Josh and while she's preferred over Aunt Fran, she's hardly the epitome of responsibility.
Spence is the most consistent friend in Abby's life and is like a second brother to her. He likes being around her family because his own home life isn't so great. Abby's father, Sam has even stepped in for Spence's absentee father over the years. Spence is kind, loyal and hard working and readily helps Abby's Mom and brother Josh around the house when it's apparent that her Dad no longer can. (Did I mention that we love him?!) He's the type of guy who likes to "fix things" and would do just about anything to be able to fix what's going on in Abby's life. By the time high school rolls around he and Abby have grown even closer and it's obvious to everyone that his feelings for her go beyond friendship even if Abby is somewhat oblivious.
Leise remains a good friend to Abby, even at the height of her grief when she seems bent on pushing everyone who cares about her away. She's a great example of what it means to be a true friend and we should all be lucky to have someone like her in our lives.
A good portion of the book is spent on the relationship Abby has with her Dad, one that was full happy times spent together creating good memories. She struggles with the realization that he won't be there for some the major milestones in her life and it's those times that your heart breaks for her all over again. Abby's journey has really only just begun at the end of the book but her perspective is different.
"Sign Language" is a must read in my opinion, especially for anyone whose lost a loved one to cancer. This story shows that while losing a loved one is painful and life goes on, that person lives on in our memories, in our hearts and there are signs everywhere to remind us of them.