Sign Language by Amy Ackley is the first novel I read that is apart of the Read All the Library Books challenge I set for myself a few weeks ago. It was the novel to set the tone for this process, and the moment I plucked it 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.
Released: August 2011
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Page Count: 392
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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.
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!)