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Feathers

I had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality.

It's 1971 and Frannie lives with her Deaf brother, her often-absent (but loving) father, and her pregnant mom on the black side of the tracks. She worries a lot: about her mom, who has already lost babies to miscarriages, about her handsome brother, who's scorned by hearing girls, about her best friend, who's becoming increasingly religious, and about the new kid in her

I had high hopes for this book, so my two stars may be more reflective of my disappointment than of the book's overall quality. It's 1971 and Frannie lives with her Deaf brother, her often-absent (but loving) father, and her pregnant mom on the black side of the tracks. She worries a lot: about her mom, who has already lost babies to miscarriages, about her handsome brother, who's scorned by hearing girls, about her best friend, who's becoming increasingly religious, and about the new kid in her class, a white (maybe?) kid that all the other students call "Jesus Boy" because of his long hair and pale skin. He's mysterious -- he knows sign language, cries in class, and stirs up all sorts of strange emotions in his classmates. Frannie's best friend thinks that he may well be the Messiah redux, but at the end of the book she's convinced otherwise and it's up to Frannie to didactically ruminate that "perhaps Jesus is in all of us."

This is a short book, and perhaps it's the length that made it feel choppy

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and unfinished, with loose ends that turn out more baffling than poetic. Surprisingly, for a storyteller of Ms. Woodson's caliber, this book felt like a cautionary tale about "showing, not telling": I felt like it was a series of lessons, but without much real substance. Also, I couldn't help being irked by some of older brother Sean's passages: in addition to his saintlike personality, his conversations with Frannie have awfully grammatical English syntax that just didn't seem to flow in the way that ASL does. I know that this was a stylistic choice, as I've read that Ms. Woodson studied ASL for many years and knows whereof she writes. But along those same lines, one weird moment in the book was when Frannie is in the car with her dad and reflects that it's strange to hear him speak because "it's so quiet in the house, what with all the signing and all." (I paraphrase here.) It might be just my experience, but every time that I've been in Deaf spaces, silence is rarer than it is golden: all sorts of sounds are around.

Even though it felt a little idealized, I did love that Sean was attractive, smart, funny, cool, independent, and Deaf, with a foot in both Deaf and hearing cultures... and I don't know of any other African-American Deaf characters in fiction for young people. Even though the hearing girls are rude to him, it's clear to Frannie and to any reader that they're ignorant and just plain wrong. I wish we saw more characters with those qualities, but even more fleshed-out.

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Category: Review

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