Show Me a Sign explores a little-known chapter of American history from the perspective of a Deaf protagonist.
Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte. Scholastic, 2020, 269 pages.
Reading Level: Middle Grades, 10-12
Recommended for : ages 12-15
Mary Lambert, now 11, was born Deaf but doesn’t experience deafness as a disability. That’s largely because she is not alone: on her home island of Martha’s Vineyard, in the Year of Our Lord 1805, many of her neighbors are Deaf. In her own family, Papa can’t hear, but Mama can, and so could George, Mary’s only sibling. George was killed only recently, in an accident that Mary feels responsible for. She’s told no one how it happened, and Mama’s grief exacerbates her guilt.
The arrival of Andrew Noble, a young man from Boston who fancies himself a scientist, introduces another strand of tension. Mr. Noble wants to study the Deaf population of the island to determine why there are so many. But it’s clear he has nothing but contempt for the Deaf, seeing them as not only disabled but subhuman. This can be dismissed as obnoxious ignorance, until his intentions take a sinister turn directed at Mary.
The first half of the novel is a bit slow, raising issues between White settlers and native Wampanoags, between Mary and her best friend, and between Mary and her mother. These aren’t resolved, or else are resolved too easily as the main plot becomes a rescue story. Still, Mary’s point of view is worth sharing, as her deafness is seen as an identity, not a disability, and no impediment to a full, productive life.
Overall Rating: 4 (out of 5)
- Worldview/moral value: 4
- Artistic/literary value: 4
- The clash of religious worldviews between Christianity and native tradition is illustrated by Mary and her friend Thomas, a freed slave who has embraced his Wampanoag wife’s religion. Their relationship shows how people can hold different convictions and still respect each other.
- Mary’s Christian faith seems genuine and her prayers in times of stress are both heartfelt and theologically sound.
- The charitable view of the past is unusual. Papa credits his own great-grandfather with courage and tenacity in coming to the New World but doesn’t excuse the dispossession of indigenous people. “We can’t hide from our ancestors’ misdeeds.” “But we can make our own choices now,” Mary affirms.
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