Monday, November 21, 2011

Book Review: Sign Language by Amy Ackley

Title: Sign Language
Author: Amy Ackley
Reading Level: Older Middle Grade/Young Adult
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Date Published: August 18, 2011
Source: Author
Description (Taken from Goodreads):
Twelve-year-old Abby North's first hint that something is really wrong with her dad is how long it's taking him to recover from what she thought was routine surgery. Soon, the thing she calls "It" has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence, the boy across the street. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore. Amy Ackley's impressive debut is wrenching, heartbreaking, and utterly true.
Sign Language is a bit of a cross between a middle grade novel and a young adult novel; it also has nothing to do with sign language itself. The sign language part comes into play because at the start, the main character Abby, a twelve year old with no worries and a loving mother and father, likes to talk to her magic eight ball and ask it for a sign regarding her nonexistent – but very much hopeful – love life.

Abby’s life quickly goes from being normal, to being the façade of normal. Her father has cancer. No. Her father is dying. She knows it, he knows it, her mother and brother know it, but they all pretend and hope and act, like he’ll pull through. Abby’s insistence that no one outside her family – not even her best friend Spence – know, is heartbreaking because it is realistic. Abby doesn’t want to be that girl whose dad has cancer. She wants normal.

Even if she can’t have it.

As the story progresses, and Abby’s father comes closer and closer to death, we get to see her grow and grow up. The story takes place over a span of about 3-4 years, so it truly does start out as a middle grade novel, but moves towards a more young adult field. I still believe it is a good fit for older middle grade readers though, as it handles death and grief and loss with so much honesty and raw emotion.

Death is never easy. And it’s not easy for Abby to handle. She starts off as a young, naïve, innocent  girl, but quickly transforms into a saddened, even bitter teenager. She doesn’t know how to deal with her grief because she shies away from it, almost ignoring it altogether. Her family falls apart around her and there’s nothing she can do about it, but deal.

Amy Ackley has expertly handled death and life with Sign Language. It’s clear that she has experienced such tragedy firsthand; and has infused Abby, her mother, her brother Josh, the sweet boy next door Spence, and every other character with so much life that it is impossible not to feel and grieve and hope and live with them. The grief is real, the loss extreme, but the hope, the life, the love that comes out at the end – it is truly uplifting. Sign Language is heartbreaking in its raw portrayal of a family losing a father and learning how to live in his absence. The subject matter may be a little too mature for some middle grade readers, but I think it’s suitable for more mature MG readers and has plenty to offer for YA readers as well.

Opening line: The first thing Abby remembered about It was the scar. ~ pg. 3

Favorite lines/passages (there were so many):
Six months. It was now April, so that meant that Dad would die before October. He’d be a ghost for Halloween. ~ pg. 108

She became the champion of wasting time, knowing she was wasting precious time. ~ pgs. 129-130

She was angry at Spence, but had no idea why. She was mad at Mom, she was mad at Dad, she was mad at everyone and everything. It was a nameless, blameless fury, and it terrified her. ~ pg. 320

*This is the e-ARC version and lines, pages, cover art may differ from final copy
*This review is my honest opinion and I received no monetary compensation from it.

Find Amy Ackley online:
Buy it online:


Candace said...

I hadn't really heard anything about this one but since I saw your review in my inbox when it went up I've since seen some good things about it. I may have to check it out!

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