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Posted December 3, 2011
Honest & Heartbreaking - Beautiful & Uplifting
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.
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