Amulet, 2014 233 pgs
Using anthropomorphic bunnies, Bell offers her first person account of her childhood experiences in a graphic format. Because of an illness when she was four, Cece loses her hearing. She adjusts to her new life with the help of her supportive family and early experiences in a deaf program where she learns to lip read. After a move to a new town, Cece begins life as a deaf child in a hearing world. With the help of a Phonic Ear Cece is able to hear the teacher in school perfectly, as longs as he or she speaks into a microphone. The large battery pack that she must wear like a harness makes her feel conspicuous and awkward. At home and with friends, she wears a regular hearing aid and struggles to participate while reading lips and picking works out of garbled static. Cece longs for a best friend who excepts her for who she is and harbors a secret crush on a neighborhood boy. Finally after years of social confusion Cece embraces her "otherness" and becomes El Deafo, a true superhero. She uses the Phonic Ear for less than ethical purposes, but through it all manages to find social acceptance and confidence at last. An author's note at the end shares her experiences and knowledge and offers the facts behind the fiction. The acknowledgements further set the story in a real context, as the characters are based on real people in Bell's life.
El Deafo is a fun and readable work about the author's real experiences in the tradition of Smile and Drama by Telgemeier. It is both entertaining and heartbreaking and always real. Kids will relate to El Deafo, whether hearing or non-hearing, and applaud Cece as she gains self confidence and maybe even apply the lesson to the "otherness" in their own lives. I loved Cece and couldn't help cheering her on as she grows and matures. She has kind and supportive adults in her life and, although flawed, understanding and fun friends--eventually. The illustrations are well drawn and the panels scan well. The book will be published in full color. Both boys and girls will enjoy this book, although it may appeal more to girls. The lessons are universal and important. Every child growing up has something about them that makes them feel different. Its important for all of us to embrace our "otherness" and turn it into a superpower instead of a negative. I believe in the power of El Deafo and can't wait to see what else Bell has in store for us.