Some of the best books are the ones that give you a window into something previously unfamiliar to you. One of the best examples of this is Sara Novic’s “True Biz.”
“True Biz” takes place at a Deaf residential school called River Valley School for the Deaf, and it explores the lives of three members of the school's community: a new student who is inexperienced with American Sign Language and has never met another Deaf person before, the popular guy who is struggling with familial issues and the school's principal who is trying to keep her work and home lives intact.
Deaf culture has been a fairly insular one, which is why it is so important to engage with and uplift stories from Deaf authors such as Novic. The Deaf/Hard of Hearing community has often had stories told about them, but not by them. This can lead to incorrect portrayals of what it is like to be Deaf/HOH and living in a society not designed with them in mind.
The Deaf community is incredibly vibrant, and its members are strong advocates of their own civil rights who have been fighting for equality and access for years. “True Biz” fully encapsulates the passion and power of this community, showing obvious drive as they go about their everyday lives.
“True Biz” does an excellent job of showing the intricacies of Deaf culture. There are many different ways to be Deaf, and no one person's experience is the exact same as anyone else's. A great example of this is the character Charlie — she’s Deaf, but isn’t fluent in ASL and has never even interacted with another Deaf person before coming to River Valley.
I truly love how Novic crafted her character. She’s imperfect and caught between two worlds – hearing and Deaf – trying to find a place where she fits in.
When Charlie meets her roommate, a fluent signer, we see the great way Novic decided to translate ASL onto the page. There are no quotations, and signed conversations are written in italics. Charlie, being an inexperienced signer, doesn't understand everything being signed to her, but anytime she doesn't understand a sign it is written as a "_" in the conversation.
As a Hard of Hearing person who is also an inexperienced ASL signer, I loved this detail that Novic included. It’s an instantly understandable way to demonstrate how Charlie is experiencing language barriers. I feel like this is really relatable to speakers of multiple languages who switch between them for different reasons.
“True Biz” at its core is a book about what makes us human, which is the way we communicate with each other. Novic’s gifted writing ability provides amazing narration and demonstrates her skill for dialogue.
Through amazing characterization and an immersive setting, we are introduced to a culture that is incredibly vivacious and people passionate about their way of life. This book is perfect for anyone curious about Deaf culture, or how you can better connect with those who are different from yourself.