Sign Language by Amy Ackley


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Sometimes I choose library books with reckless abandon. I choose them at random and hope for the best. For example, the moment I plucked Sign Language by Amy Ackley from the library stack…I was disappointed. The book cover seemed to indicate that the novel I held in my hands was going to be some generic contemporary YA novel. This is a genre I tend to avoid because I have a hard time relating to the characters, and sometimes I find their actions/reactions to be unbelievable. However, Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell and Open Road Summer by Emery Lord are exceptions; I adored these two novels. On top of that, Sign Language dealt with a topic that I wasn’t entirely sure I was prepared to read about because I was already dealing with it in my own life– grief and a parent battling cancer. I did struggle to immerse myself into the novel at first, but by the end I found Sign Language to be wonderfully written and emotional story.

I had a hard time getting absorbed into the story because I struggled to accept how Abby North, the main character, reacted to the news of her father’s cancer.  At first, she wouldn’t call her father’s ailment what it was– cancer. It seemed like she was ignorant and unaware of what was happening, which didn’t make sense because twelve-year-old kids know what cancer is. Then I realized. this was her “denial stage”, and the author was essentially using the 5 steps of grief as framework for the novel. The moment when Abby finally acknowledges that her father has cancer and it is terminal changed everything for me. I recall reading this novel in bed at 2AM with a flashlight tucked under my chin, and I’m fairly confident I wept through the entire second half of the novel.

Aside from coping from the loss of her father, Abby still has to deal with everything else that comes with being a teenager– falling in love, a family that feels like its falling apart, moving away, finding a place in the world. She feels lost, and she feels angry that her father is not around to guide her through adolescence. She doesn’t always make the best decisions, sometimes she pushes friends and family away, and every time, it felt like my heart was breaking for her.

Sign Language by Amy Ackley is a perfect example of why I wanted to challenge myself to READ ALL THE BOOKS. It’s a novel I would have ignored either because of something vain, like the book cover, or because I don’t often like contemporary fiction, but in a way, it’s a story that I needed to read.

(Also, fun fact, according to her bio, the author is a Michigan native, and she lives two towns over from where I live. What if I bumped into her at a restaurant and didn’t even realize?! NEAT!)

Sign Language by Amy Ackley

Released: August 2011
Genre: Contemporary, Coming of Age
Age Group: Young Adult

[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.

6 responses to “Sign Language by Amy Ackley”

  1. agnesmack Avatar

    Oh, I love that challenge you’re setting for yourself! I love when one of my challenges “forces” me to read something I think I’m going to hate and then it turns out to be oddly appropriate / good / moving / important / some thing other than hateable.


  2. Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey) Avatar
    Katie Wilkins (@DoingDewey)

    I’m glad this ended up being a book you enjoyed! And I’m so sorry to hear that one of your parents has cancer. I’m sending virtual hugs your way.


  3. Lola Avatar

    When I saw the book title I actually thought it was a book about sign language, so i was surprised to see it was ya cotemporary. That’s not my favorite genre either, but I have read some great books in the genre that i give them a try now and then. Sounds like it deals with some heavy topics, that does sound tough to read about, but I am glad to hear it was mostly a good one. Great review!


  4. Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight Avatar
    Kristen @ Metaphors and Moonlight

    Just like Lola, I also thought this would be about deafness and sign language. I’m curious, why is that the title? It sounds like a really emotional book though. I’m very sorry to hear about the reasons you are able to relate to it, but it sounds like the topics were handled well, and I’m glad you enjoyed the book.


    1. Jackie G. Avatar
      Jackie G.

      Abby sought out signs that her father was still around, even if it was just his spirit– messages in a magic 8 ball, the way the wind danced out an open window. It doesn’t actually occupy as much of the novel as maybe the title would suggest though.


  5. Erika E. @ The Nocturnal Fey Avatar
    Erika E. @ The Nocturnal Fey

    Oh wow! This seems very heartbreaking. I also thought it’s about deafness and sign language until I read the synopsis and your review. And I’m so sorry to hear about your own situation. I can see why it affected you so much.

    Great review, by the way! Definitely adding this in my TBR.


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Hello, my name is Jackie. I’m a thirty-something mother of a rambunctious toddler from a small town in Michigan. When I’m not toddler-wrangling, I’m often seeking refuge from life’s most chaotic moments in a cup of hot tea. I also love getting lost in stories—both in books and virtually. I enjoy speculative fiction the most, and I am especially eager to read fantasy novels and horror novels. When I’m feeling especially indulgent (usually after everyone in the house has gone to sleep), I like to dive into video games and explore the sprawling worlds in Fallout, Elder Scrolls, Dragon Age, and Mass Effect.

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