For generations, residents of Chilmark have been born deaf. Mary Elizabeth Lambert (11) and her father are two of them; her mother and brother George are not. This is just the way it is on this island off Martha's Vineyard and Mary has led an ordinary life: chores and helping Mama, going to school, and spending time with her best friend Nancy. But Mary has a secret: she is the reason her brother got killed. She didn't hear the horse and carriage coming, and in the process of George pushing her out of the way, he was killed. It has been eight months, but the grief has a strong grasp on the family, especially her mother. Mary can't bring herself to tell them it is her fault. Certain that her brother is still unsettled in the afterlife, Mary and Nancy stage a dance for the dead.
While the girls, dressed as ghosts, are dancing in the graveyard, Reverend Lee and newcomer Andrew Noble walk by. Noble is a scientist who has come from Boston to study why so many people on the island are deaf. He travels about the island collecting samples and, to Mary's shock, her brother's books! WIthin those pages is a memory map her brother created, and Mary is determined to find it. Andrew catches her, drags her to his boat, and they set off for Boston. She works as a servant to pay Noble's room and board at a grimy inn in a city where everyone hears, no one signs, and deaf are considered unlearned idiots. Things look bleak until Noble takes her to the office of Dr. Henry Minot. Is Minot working with Noble or will he make his own observations?
In staying with Mary's "adventures" as the heart of the book, several other, equally beautiful stories were left out of the summary. The themes of family, friendship, grief, race relations, and social divisions are seamlessly woven and beautifully written into the story, pushing readers to invest more in Mary's story than they may have anticipated. What I appreciate most is the disparate views that Mary's mother and father had about the Wampanoag. The discussions/scenes around that topic create realism that isn't always seen in a middle grade novel: two adults in the same household respectfully disagreeing.
Young readers will be appalled by what Mary dealt with, intrigued to learn whether Chilmark really existed, and taken aback by the parallels of the social issues that are woven into their worlds: racism, prejudice, reparation demands, stereotyping, and more. Highly recommended.
This is Mary's story to tell, and readers of all ages will find it compelling, heart-breaking, and hopeful, as well.
Mary's brother is killed in an accident and she tries to deal with his grief by pretending to be a ghost in the graveyard. Additionally, Mary is kidnapped, abused by her captor, and chased by her kidnapper after she escapes. The events, while relevant, may bother readers who are sensitive to personal violence.
This is an #OwnVoices historical fiction story about a young deaf girl in Massachusetts.
Readers will be intrigued to know whether Mary's story has any factual details. The author includes some in the back and presents additional details that will expand their curiosity about sign language. There are also exceptional examples that can spark conversations about disabilities, prejudice, and injustices that, while "historical" in this context, are still relevant today.
11 and Up
10 and Up
Teen STAR Review Team, Be the Star You Are!™ . Reviewer's Age:
Borrow. This is an exceptional choice for readers who enjoy realistic fiction.