Of Sound Mind

Of Sound Mind

4.3 8
by Jean Ferris

View All Available Formats & Editions

A poignant novel partially set in a world of silence

High school senior Theo is fluent in two languages: spoken English and sign. His parents and brother, Jeremy, are deaf, but Theo can hear, which has over the years cast him in the role of interpreter for his family. Unfortunately, it's not a welcome duty, especially in the case of his mother, Palma.

See more details below


A poignant novel partially set in a world of silence

High school senior Theo is fluent in two languages: spoken English and sign. His parents and brother, Jeremy, are deaf, but Theo can hear, which has over the years cast him in the role of interpreter for his family. Unfortunately, it's not a welcome duty, especially in the case of his mother, Palma. She is a successful sculptor who, being deeply suspicious of "hearies," expects Theo to act as her business manager. And Jeremy relies on Theo for company and homework help. It's become especially frustrating lately because Theo has met a fascinating new girl at school, Ivy, with whom he wants to spend as much time as possible. Theo's father, Thomas, is the only one who has never burdened him, but that changes when Thomas has a stroke. Palma, frightened and self-absorbed, cannot bring herself to nurse her husband, leaving Theo with the full burden to bear. But with the help of Ivy and some of her friends, Theo is finally able to change his family's dynamics and find time to plan his future.

Read More

Editorial Reviews

Booklist Starred
Both a thought-provoking study of just when being deaf matters and when it does not, and an unusually rich coming-of-age story that explores universal issues of family responsibility, emotional maturation, love, and loss.
The Horn Book
A moving exploration of the extraordinary demands a disability places on a family as well as the effects of an exceptionally strong personality on a household.
Publishers Weekly
In this emotionally taut novel Ferris (Bad; Eight Seconds) chronicles the conflicts of high school senior Theo, caught between the hearing and deaf worlds. Theo, who can hear and who knows sign language, often finds himself in a burdensome and exhausting position in a family in which everyone else is deaf. For example, at age 11 he negotiated the purchase of his parents' house when he "didn't know what a lot of terms he had to use even meant, much less how to sign them to his parents." Theo forms a romantic relationship with a new girl, Ivy, who also signs because she has a deaf father, and his own stoic, peacemaking father suffers a stroke. These two events motivate Theo to assert himself against his domineering mother, Parma. Ferris effectively establishes the manners and mores of the deaf community and American Sign Language, using examples such as Parma's rudeness when she clasps her youngest son's hands to shut him up, and describing the signers' habit of watching facial and body language intently and their suspicions about "hearies." An eclectic and appealing cast of characters, including the bickering retirees Harry and Hazel, propel the drama. Ages 12-up. (Sept.) Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Children's Literature
What is it like to grow up hearing in a soundless world? Theo's parents and younger brother are deaf and Theo ends up being the intermediary between his family and the hearing world. Theo's mother, a famous sculptor, demands that he be her interpreter. He feels weighted down by the responsibilities of dealing with agents and gallery owners for his mother, Jeremy's teachers and his father's medical needs. His perspective is forever changed, however, when he meets Ivy, who has a deaf father. Through their friendship they both realize that their problems are caused by their view of themselves. Theo resents being his mother's interpreter and the decision-maker and caregiver in his family, but becomes jealous when others assume the role. Ivy, whose mother abandoned her as an infant, cooks food for others to make up for the lost nurturing. Theo realizes it is up to him to break away; that he is not indispensable, but others can fill his role. The story is fast moving and adolescents should appreciate Ivy and Theo's interactions as well as how they relate to their families. 2001, Farrar Straus Giroux, $16.00. Ages 13 to 16. Reviewer: Janet L. Rose AGES: 13 14 15 16
Theo is a high school senior whose parents and younger brother are deaf. As the only hearing person in his family, he serves as family interpreter. His mother, Palma, a successful sculptor and rather a prima donna, tends to take Theo's role for granted, whereas his father tries hard not to burden his son. When Theo meets Ivy, a new girl in school living with her father, who is also deaf, being hearing children of deaf parents brings them together. Then Theo finds that he really enjoys spending time with Ivy and is attracted to her. Ivy prods Theo to look at himself and his feelings about his family. When Theo's father suffers a stroke, Palma expects Theo to be responsible for his care, virtually absenting herself from the situation. Ivy and other concerned friends step up to help Theo, who eventually starts to consider his own needs. Ferris has written an absorbing novel with a strong, endearing protagonist. Theo's loyalty to his family and his resentment of their neediness make him sympathetic. Ivy is charming and interesting. The relationships between the characters ring true, including the secondary characters. Theo's brother Jeremy, for example, gets to know Ivy's dad. The only rather flat character is Palma, who seems two-dimensional compared to the others. Regardless, this fine novel explores a world about which most people know little. It will have broad appeal to male and female readers and belongs in public and school libraries. VOYA CODES: 4Q 4P J S (Better than most, marred only by occasional lapses; Broad general YA appeal; Junior High, defined as grades 7 to 9; Senior High, defined as grades 10 to 12). 2001.224p, Farrar Straus Giroux, $16. Ages 12 to 18. Reviewer:Alice F. Stern
To quote from the review of the hardcover in KLIATT, September 2001: Theo is a senior in high school, the son of a famous sculptor, the only hearing person in his family. This means from the time he was a little boy, he has been frequently asked by his parents to translate, in sign language, so they can understand what they need to know. This has given him a great deal of responsibility, and he doesn't see how he will ever be able to leave his parents and little brother, who are so dependent on him. Imagine his surprise when he meets a new girl at school who shares his bilingual ability: Ivy's father is deaf and she too has been the main interpreter for him all her life. Ivy and Theo are absolutely terrific young people—smart, responsible, thoughtful. Their friendship turns into romance, but is volatile as well. Ivy urges Theo to pursue his own life, to apply to MIT far away from his family; and Theo points out to Ivy that she is caught in an endless whirl of nurturing, wanting to mother everyone—is this because her own mother deserted her? When Theo's father becomes seriously ill, Ivy is helpful, but still pushing Theo to get on with his own life, to defy his mother and leave home. Ferris manages to convey conversations well, using bold letters to indicate what is being signed rather than spoken. The plight of the child who can communicate with the outside world, forced to translate for parents in situations such as doctor's examinations, housing transactions, and legal hearings, is a poignant one. The cover art and title make one think. (An ALA Best Book for YAs.) KLIATT Codes: JS*—Exceptional book, recommended for junior and senior high school students. 2001, Farrar,Straus and Giroux, Sunburst, 215p., Ages 12 to 18.
—Claire Rosser
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up-Theo, a high school senior, loves his family but resents his ever-increasing burden of responsibility. As the only hearing person among them, he is pressed into the role of interpreter for his deaf parents and brother. He must rush home from school to make phone calls for his mother or to accompany his father to the doctor's office and translate embarrassing personal information. His spoiled, petulant mother is an artist who believes "hearies" can't be trusted-a troubling concept for Theo, who wonders if she includes him in that category. When his father has a stroke, she falls apart and the teen's plans for college are threatened. He's also wrapped up in a new romance with Ivy, who speaks both of his languages because her father is deaf. Theo's dilemma is poignantly drawn, but the end of the story will prove unsatisfying to many readers. Theo's problems are too easily resolved by the appearance of a quirky elderly couple who learn sign language almost overnight. While the protagonist does come to understand his mother's fears and gains insight into her personality, he never really confronts her. Even the eventual death of his father lacks strong emotional impact. However, for those teens with a keen interest, this is a fascinating window into the deaf culture and the intricacies of sign language.-Miranda Doyle, San Francisco Public Library Copyright 2001 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Theo's problems are both unusual and ordinary, as the only hearing child in a family otherwise deaf, and as the child of a parent who selfishly forgets who is the adult. Many oldest children may have the martyr syndrome going, but few with the resounding excuses of an artistically gifted deaf mother who relies on Theo for interpretation in her interactions with the world at large, a deaf brother who depends on Theo to be a parent, and a deaf father who quietly fills in the gaps, but refuses to rein in his wife. Flashy and gorgeous Ivy shows up at the bus stop and catches Theo signing swear words to himself. As the two discover elements in common and romance commences, they also find themselves unwilling to accept the other's point of view about past and future choices. His father's stroke heightens the pressure on Theo, forcing him to confront his own role. Ferris indicates speaking in sign with a boldface type and translates into English grammar to smooth the reader's way. Great sensitivity is shown to the deaf culture and yet Theo's position as the hearing one in his family is seen ultimately as both burden and gift. The core issue explored is the strain on a child whose parent is unwilling to parent, with deafness exacerbating the situation. Ivy's hearing mother has abandoned her to her deaf father, and so there is a contrast in circumstances and personality that provides conflict in addition to the events that unfold. Told from Theo's point of view, there is an unusual psychological richness that intrigues and keeps the somewhat stock characters from falling completely into cliche. A quiet story that resonates. (Fiction. 12+)

Read More

Product Details

Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Publication date:
Edition description:
First Edition
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
5.17(w) x 7.59(h) x 0.62(d)
730L (what's this?)
Age Range:
12 - 17 Years

Customer Reviews

Average Review:

Write a Review

and post it to your social network


Most Helpful Customer Reviews

See all customer reviews >