Show Me a Sign

Show Me a Sign
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Release Date
March 03, 2020
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Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha's Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there -- including Mary -- are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage.

But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary's brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island's prevalent deafness. His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a "live specimen" in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability.

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Everyone has value
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What I Loved: Show me a Sign, is uniquely told by someone born deaf. In Martha’s Vineyard in the 1800s nearly 1 in every 4th person was born deaf. Deaf and hearing family members mix enough that everyone signs. Mary Lambert grows up feeling valued and leads a normal life in her culture.
Then she is kidnapped and brought to Boston as a live specimen. They run tests to try and establish a reason for her perceived deformity. During her ordeal, being deaf means she can't easily appeal to someone else for help. She is frightened in this new world of abuse and isolation. She comes to understand that people assume she is dumb because she is deaf.
What Left me wanting more: Mary returns to the loving embrace of her family and community with the help of some sympathetic captors who learn of her kidnapped status. With this traumatic event behind her, no one asks her for the details of what happened. I was a bit disappointed in the glossing over of her experience and the resuming of normal life even if everyone is a bit more grateful and loving towards her. I would have expected more dissonance in Mary as she copes experiencing a wider and crueler world than the one she had grown up with.
Final Verdict: This was a strong novel about a community and everyone having value. Martha's Vineyard at this time was truly a unique place because the deaf could lead productive lives without feeling lesser than their hearing counterparts. It shows that being born differently doesn't mean you're disadvantaged or disabled. It is remarkable to think that for so long made-up village signs or family signs were the only way to help a deaf person participate in the world around them.

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