The Barnes & Noble Review
Oscar-winning actor Marlee Matlin teaches us about friendship, differences, and patience in this buoyant and fulfilling novel featuring Megan, a deaf girl, and her new best friend.
Young Cindy's family has just moved to Morton Street, and Megan is already at her doorstep. At first, outgoing Megan seems both exciting and overwhelming, with fast-as-lightning sign language skills, a "voice that sounded different to others," and a personality that could put any neighborhood welcome wagon to shame. Soon the two girls are best buds, and Megan introduces Cindy to her world, chatting with friends online and teaching her signs. Yet whenever Cindy tries to help out her independence-focused friend, Megan gets a bit defensive, leaving Cindy on shaky ground. After Megan finds out she's going to summer camp, Cindy decides to join her friend, and the two are bunked together with the girls of Hot Pink Cabin, including Lizzie, another deaf girl who starts taking up much of Megan's attention. Megan also decides to test her self-sufficiency one night and takes off into the woods, only to get lost until Cindy finds her, much to Megan's frustration. When summer camp's over, however, and the girls return home on non-speaking terms, Megan finally realizes that "no matter who you are, sometimes you're going to need help."
Matlin's first foray into writing novels for young readers is compassionate and proud, addressing deafness head-on without letting the issue become too angelic. Megan is a well-rounded character and her temper sometimes gets the better of her, sending readers a clear message that should resonate long after the book is finished. A fair-minded novel that should change perceptions of folks with different abilities, Deaf Child Crossing will have children and adults sitting up and taking notice. Shana Taylor
Matlin, the first deaf actor to win an Academy Award, makes her fiction debut with this problematic novel about a friendship between two nine-year-old girls. Megan, who is deaf, is almost opposite in temperament from her new neighbor, the bookish, shy Cindy, but nonetheless decides that Cindy will be her best friend. Much of the book's tension relies on the girls' best-friend status, but the friendship isn't convincingly developed. Nor are the characters-even though the point of view alternates between the girls, Cindy seems sketchy next to Megan, and neither voice seems authentic (e.g., nine-year-old Megan asks herself what kind of toys the new girl will have). Matlin is at her best when delving into Megan's inner world, such as her heightened sense of smell (her father-like the other parents, distractingly referred to by his first name-claims her deafness sharpens her other senses) or her anger at not being able to use the phone, but generally these moments are fleeting and the conflicts they evoke too neatly resolved. Unfortunately, the pages are riddled with errors in grammar and syntax ("Like any other home, dinnertime was a chance to share events of day"; a paragraph written in the past tense briefly switches to present tense and back; etc.), further undermining the storytelling. Ages 8-12. (Sept.)
School Library Journal
Gr 4-6-When Cindy, who is hearing, moves in down the street from Megan, who is deaf, the nine-year-olds quickly become best friends. Megan wears hearing aids and lip-reads, but the girls become even closer as Cindy begins to learn sign language. Problems crop up when her attempts to be helpful offend Megan's sense of independence, and things get even worse at summer camp, where they meet another deaf girl, Lizzie. While this novel is a solid attempt to chronicle the issues that arise in deaf/hearing friendships, the communication difficulties are often downplayed; for example, Cindy learns to sign in a matter of months and is communicating fluently by the end of camp. The writing, too, is often awkward. Lizzie is never fully realized, though she is the prime catalyst for the conflict between the two main characters. Matlin succeeds, however, in creating a winning, spunky, sometimes frustrating Megan, and if the ending is a bit abrupt or contrived, it is nevertheless in keeping with her actions. Indeed, the story's greatest strength is in demonstrating that the two protagonists' main differences have nothing to do with hearing or the lack of it.-Kathleen Kelly MacMillan, Maryland School for the Deaf, Columbia Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Matlin's intimate insights into being American, female, and deaf infuse the character of Megan, a charming, dynamic, and cantankerous girl, excited that a potential friend her age has moved next door. Her new, hearing neighbor, Cindy, has just moved into the most compelling experience of her life, as she becomes the immediate, sworn, off-and-on best friend of an uncommonly accomplished lip-reading girl who doesn't take no-or any type of criticism-lightly. The characters are envisioned in common-place settings living out the American preadolescent experience in an upper-middle-class lifestyle, one where the world that is built for hearing people bends to every strategic move made by Megan. Her experience is only made possible by intense effort and her family's well-adjusted, mature, and kind approach to an active life. Megan has tasted of every good character-building experience, except summer camp; despite her clear objection and her fear of being bored-or worse: ignored-she manages to place herself at the center of everyone's attention. The plot suffers when Matlin loses sight of its pace and inserts overlong explanations of apparatus used by individuals with hearing disabilities; because the information is more informative than descriptive, it impedes the pace which slows to a dead stop. Though the usefulness of the information is high in terms of knowing facts about the common ways that deaf people function, Matlin's story goes beyond bibliotherapy, so it's unfortunate that the simple and rather leaden text will only appeal to a small group. Megan's rather unique character begs a sequel, but for a broader range of readership. (Fiction. 9-11)
Read an Excerpt
Chapter 1: are you deaf or something?
Megan sat on the hood of her father's big blue SUV, watching and waiting for a moving truck to come rumbling down Morton Street toward the Bregenzer house. Of course, Megan thought, it isn't really the Bregenzer house anymore. They moved out in April. Practically every day since the sign had come down, Megan had asked her parents, "When are they moving in?" And they always answered, "Pretty soon." Megan knew they were teasing her, but that didn't matter. The real estate agent who took down the "For Sale" sign told the Merrills that the new owners had a little girl nine years old -- the same age as Megan.
Hardly any kids Megan's age lived in her neighborhood. And the ones who were her age were boys who lived two blocks over, and they weren't really her friends. So this new kid would be the first girl in the neighborhood in a long time. Megan had so many questions running through her head as she waited on the car hood and stared up at the puffy white clouds in the sky. What would the new kid be like? Would she be nice? Funny? What kind of toys would she bring with her? Megan hoped she would have new stuff, unlike the hand-me-down toys and too-big bike she got from her older brother, Matt. But, most of all, Megan wondered if the new girl would be like some of the kids at school who poked fun at her. Megan was tired of having to stick up for herself or have her brother yell at the kids who teased her. She scrunched up her eyes at the memory and pushed those thoughts out of her head. This girl would be different. She knew it. Maybe, Megan thought as she crossed her fingers for luck, she'll be my best friend.
It was the first Saturday of summer vacation, which meant no more homework and no more waking up at the crack of dawn to get to school. Megan scanned the street. Still no moving truck. She looked down at all the huge oak and maple trees on Morton Street, all perfectly lined up on each side of the block. She always wondered if they grew that way or if someone had planted the little saplings in perfect straight lines with rulers when they'd built the street. They were beautiful, towering trees, with big trunks perfect for hiding around during hide-and-seek and low limbs just right for climbing on.
Sometimes on dark winter nights, when the trees had no leaves, Megan imagined the trees turning into giant walking sticks, like the kind she saw in the traveling bug zoo at school. But instead of swallowing unsuspecting flies and spiders, these giant walking sticks swallowed up people and their pets as they walked by. At least that's what Megan's brother, Matt, told her when Mrs. Adams's fat tabby cat turned up missing.
"Probably got eaten up by the trees," Matt said. Megan didn't believe him then, but one night, during a real scary thunderstorm, when some tree branches scraped against their house, Megan was convinced that the trees were coming for them! Her mother told her she was being silly; "trees can't come alive and snatch people." Megan wasn't completely convinced. And just in case, she showed the trees her respect and never carved words on them or peeled off their bark like other kids did.
Megan's nose tickled; it was the smell of freshly cut grass, the perfect summer smell. Megan rolled over on her side and saw old Mr. Rogowski mowing his lawn. Every weekend, unless it was raining, old Mr. Rogowski was out mowing his lawn. Megan's dad made Matt mow the lawn for his allowance, but he always grumbled. Mr. Rogowski never seemed happier than when he was cutting his grass. He was a short little man with a bald spot on the back of his head and had only three fingers on his left hand, which made the kids who lived on the next block over afraid of him. But Mr. Rogowski was always nice to Megan, and besides, Megan's father told her that there was nothing to be afraid of. Mr. Rogowski had lost his fingers in a lawn mower accident, and he was still happy cutting the grass. Megan smiled at the big floppy hat he wore to keep the sun off his bald spot; it was exactly like the hat her mother wore when they went to the beach. Mr. Rogowski looked up from his mower and waved at Megan. She waved back. Megan made it her business to know every person and pet in the neighborhood. Why not? It was Megan's street, and everyone in the neighborhood knew that.
Just then Megan looked up and saw a big truck coming to a stop at the driveway of the Bregenzer home. The movers came up the other end of Morton Street! That was sneaky, Megan thought, laughing to herself. She jumped down from the hood of the car and ran across the street to see her new neighbors.
Megan scurried up to the big oak that was right next to the driveway. From here she could peek around the trunk and watch all the action. Her first look was disappointing. She only saw three moving men starting to work at the back of the truck. They were all wearing gray coveralls with the sleeves cut off and red bandannas tied around their foreheads. Megan noticed their arm muscles because Matt was trying hard to grow his. Megan was going to tell Matt that he should become a mover if he wanted his muscles to grow really big.
But where were the new neighbors? The movers began to unload boxes. And more boxes, and more boxes and more boxes! Megan made sure she saw everything. She looked at the furniture and even the brand-new gardening tools. To Megan, personal belongings said a lot about their owners.
Megan paid close attention to the living room furniture that the movers were bringing in: a long sofa to lie on that she later found out was called a chaise, and two end tables made of dark wood with gleaming handles. How could someone sit in that furniture and watch television? It seemed so stiff and straight!
And then a car pulled up, right behind the moving van. At first it was hard for Megan to see because the June sun was reflecting brightly off of the window, and she had to cover her eyes. But then the doors swung open, and out stepped a couple. The man was tall and thin, with black hair combed very neatly and glasses that he kept pushing back up his nose. The woman was very pretty, with black curly hair just as neat as the man's hair. They both wore pressed tan pants and crisp white shirts. Very clean for moving, Megan thought.
So where is their daughter? she wondered. They're supposed to have a daughter! She remembered the Hammers who lived down the street who had no kids. Mr. Hammer was always chasing kids off his lawn when they tried to play in his leaf piles. Once he had even gone so far as to turn the hose on them. Megan thought it was because he had no kids and didn't understand that sometimes kids just need to jump in leaf piles; she hoped this new couple moving in wouldn't be the same. She crossed her fingers again and ventured closer to the car.
Megan now noticed that the man shouted something over to his wife as he walked up to the new house, but Megan had no idea what he was saying. Megan could tell by their anxious looks that moving day was very stressful for them. Suddenly, another bright reflection from a window flashed in Megan's face, and then she saw the rear of the station wagon open up.
Out stepped a little girl.
The first thing Megan noticed was that she had big brown eyes. Bigger and more brown than even Nancy Culver's, who sat behind Megan in her homeroom class and who had the biggest eyes Megan had ever seen. Nancy liked to gross out the kids in the class by turning her eyelids inside out. The next thing Megan noticed was the new girl's black hair. It was short and wavy, with tight little curls in the back, just like the girl's mother standing next to the car. Megan thought the hairstyle looked a little old-fashioned.
But Megan was still thrilled that the girl was really here. She ran over right to the car.
"Hi there!" yelled Megan, and the young girl nearly jumped out of her sandals. "I'm Megan" she continued to yell, "and I live four houses down from you! I think we should be new best friends!"
Megan knew that her voice sounded different to others, since she couldn't tell how loud or soft she was speaking. Some people said it sounded like she was talking in a box, while others said it sounded like she was imitating a cartoon voice. Still, once people had time to get used to Megan's special way of talking, they didn't seem to have any trouble understanding her.
Megan watched as the girl with the big brown eyes opened them so wide that it almost looked to Megan as if she weren't blinking at all. For a second, Megan imagined that old cartoon where the wolf's eyes pop out and his jaw drops to the ground. This made Megan grin a little. Although she had been speaking this way since she had started taking speech classes at age three, no one had ever been this surprised to hear her voice.
"Hi," said the little girl finally. She shyly tucked her chin to her shoulder when she talked.
"Hi!" Megan repeated with the same voice. "My name is Megan. What's yours?"
The little girl seemed to understand her better this time. "Cindy," she responded quietly, still looking down at the grass. "Cindy Calicchio."
"What?" asked Megan. She couldn't hear her and fiddled with her hearing aids.
"Cindy," said the little girl in a louder voice, but she still didn't look up from the grass.
"I still don't understand you!" Megan yelled. Cindy's mom turned to see why the two girls were yelling at each other.
Cindy looked straight at Megan. Now she looked a little frustrated. "What's the matter? Are you deaf or something?" she yelled back.
Megan screamed out and then fell to the ground, laughing hysterically. "How did you know that?" she asked as she laughed.
"Huh? You mean you are deaf?" Cindy asked meekly.
"Duh! That's why I have these hearing aids!" Megan said as she pointed to her ears and turned her head from side to side so that Cindy could see the bright purple ear molds and hearing aids hanging over each ear. "I am deaf."
Cindy took a moment to let this sink in. "I thought someone put bubble gum in your ears!" she said.
Megan laughed even harder at the thought.
Cindy waited for Megan to stop laughing before she tried asking her another question. "What do they do?" she asked timidly.
"They make everything loud for me. Even though I can't hear a lot of things, I can hear some things with these," said Megan as she stood up again. She purposely turned the little dial on one of the hearing aids until it made a loud squeaking sound like a teakettle that was boiling over. "They're like the headphones my dad wears when he doesn't want my mom to hear his goofy music. Except, for me, they make sounds, not just music, louder."
"You mean you can hear? But I thought you were deaf...," said Cindy.
Megan could see that Cindy was very confused. She went on, anyway. "I can hear a little, but with these on, I can hear more! It's not as much as you can hear, but it helps. And they'll help even more if you look at me when you talk."
Cindy's cheeks flushed with embarrassment.
"Can I finish my lecture now?" Megan asked as she put her hands on her hips.
Cindy giggled and nodded, looking more relaxed. More than that, she looked like she understood everything Megan was saying.
"So you're Megan, right?" asked Cindy cautiously.
Megan nodded enthusiastically. She knew Cindy wasn't confused anymore, and that was the most important thing to her. "Hi, Cindy!" she said, beaming her biggest smile. "Welcome to my neighborhood."
Megan grabbed Cindy's hand and shook it hard. Cindy looked surprised by Megan's grip, but after a moment she shook it right back.
"It's going to be an awesome summer," said Megan.
Copyright © 2002 by Marlee Matlin