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Sign Language

Sign Language

4.9 10
by Amy Ackley

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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,


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.

Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
This sprawling story, the first YA winner of the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award, begins with Abby at age 11—when her father's cancer is first discovered—and moves through his decline, death, and its aftermath, continuing into Abby's sophomore year of high school. Abby's friends Spence and Leise are her primary sources of support, though both characters are thinly drawn, existing solely to be there for Abby. As for Abby, her defining qualities are naïveté (regarding both the gravity of her father's condition and Spence's growing feelings for her), denial of the lingering anger her father's death has left her with, and self-absorption, as she pushes away nearly everyone who reaches out to her. Ackley taps into the loneliness of the grieving process, as well as the pain that comes with such a primary loss; while the story suffers from unnecessary length, a ponderous pace, and a third-person narrative that swings between an off-the-cuff, teenage voice and some quirky, stodgy phrasings, readers who stick with it will appreciate Abby's steady journey to acceptance. Ages 12–up. (Aug.)
VOYA - Shanna Smith
Through the course of her father's illness, and ultimately his death, Abby grows from a naive twelve-year-old girl to a confused fifteen-year-old adolescent. This period in her life is divided into two parts by author Amy Ackley: before the death and after. Before her father's illness, Abby lived a seemingly normal, happy childhood. The news of his terminal cancer, however, breaks her world into pieces, and within four months she loses her father. Part two of this story begins immediately after the death, and it deals with Abby's struggle to cope with all of the changes and move forward. Luckily, throughout this period she is able to depend upon Spence, Abby's closest childhood friend and now, her first love. This is an amazing debut novel for readers who appreciate contemporary teen fiction. It is both moving and realistic, a result of the well-crafted family relationships. The author succeeds in creating genuine connections that manage not to feel forced or rushed, despite the pace of the story, which spans three years. Many young adult readers will relate to these characters, and especially enjoy the touches of romance. Give this book to fans of Sarah Ockler's Fixing Delilah (Little Brown, 2010/VOYA December 2010) and Angela Morrison's Sing Me to Sleep (Razorbill, 2010/VOYA June 2010), and be prepared for some tears along the way. Reviewer: Shanna Smith
Children's Literature - Jackie Fulton
At the age of twelve, Abby North's parents are her whole universe. So when Dad gets sick it is only natural that her universe begins to feel disjointed. At first embarrassed by her father's illness, Abby withdraws from her social network and focuses on Dad's recovery even when the end is imminent. When Dad finally succumbs to cancer her world is shattered. Now that her father is gone Abby finds that she cannot withdraw from the world permanently and is left to face the reality of moving on. Eventually, Abby has to find a way to rebuild family and friendship connections and start focusing on the trials and tribulations of being a teenager. Although there is a significant portion of this book that focuses on dealing with a terminally ill parent and the grief of losing a loved one the real story is in the family's struggle to cope with being survivors. Certainly a read to pull at your heart strings this novel presents believable characters while gently approaching the topic of life after grieving.
School Library Journal
Gr 6–8—Abby North, 13, lives in White Lake, 30 minutes from Detroit. She has a crush on her older brother's football teammate and a best friend who is surprisingly nice for being one of the popular girls. Her parents are a little older than some (48 and 55), but overall the Norths are a typical, low-key family-until her father has kidney surgery, after which the c-word comes up. The chapters that deal with her his failing health and its effect on the family are realistic and sensitive, although hospice doesn't come off looking too good (at least not through Abby's eyes). She never fully registered what the final result of her father's illness would be, and she has a meltdown at the funeral home, shocked that his body is there. For a close-knit town, there is little mention of neighbors pitching in, with the exception of precocious and likable Spence, Abby's best friend. The novel spans two and a half years, and after several false starts, Abby and her family are moving forward while still honoring Sam North's memory in the closing chapters.—Maggie Knapp, Trinity Valley School, Fort Worth, TX
Kirkus Reviews

To call this affecting debut a tearjerker is an understatement.

Sure, Abby North's dad has terminal cancer, but that doesn't mean he's going to die. Besides, the young teen from Michigan can always consult her Magic 8 Ball, which she sees as her direct line from God, and it can't be wrong. But Abby's dad does pass away before her freshman year in this heartbreaking story that's divided into the summer before and the two years after his death. The quiet yet steadfast third-person narration becomes intense as Abby refuses to eat, can't find the tears that everyone else wipes away and longs for a sign from her father to know he's still a part of her fractured life. While the focus is on Abby, the book also shows how death can affect family members in different ways, from her older brother's dabbles with alcohol to her mother's guilt for wanting to date again. The grieving process and the newly awakened emotions that come with being an early teen continue to ring true when Abby pushes everyone away, especially her childhood best friend, Spence, who may want to be more than friends after all these years.

Will Abby's story of loss and love gain popularity? Signs point to yes.(Fiction. 12 & up)

Product Details

Penguin Young Readers Group
Publication date:
Sold by:
Penguin Group
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File size:
314 KB
Age Range:
12 Years

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Meet the Author

Amy Ackley lives in Brighton, Michigan.

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Sign Language 4.9 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 10 reviews.
Nikkayme More than 1 year ago
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.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
My new fav book! I read in a day and a half and was in awe. I cryed, laughed, and fell in love in this book. One f thebest books I've read lately. I became best frienda with Abby. I can't wait for more of Amy Ackley!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
This is a sad book.That makes it good.
Heidi_G More than 1 year ago
Part One: Before and During - Abby is 12 and understands that her father is seriously ill; she even realizes that he has cancer, even though the "C" word hasn't been mentioned in her home. While trying to cope with the change of having Dad retire from teaching and be confined to a bed, Abby's teenage life continues--her unrequited feelings for the popular boy at school, the lovely relationship she has with Spence, her BFF, and the conversations she has with the magic 8 ball. Part Two: After - Here we see Abby as she struggles to keep her life and emotions on an even keel after the death of her dad. The emotional outbursts, the anger at her mother's possible first date, and the exhileration of being asked to prom by the boy of her dreams combine for two years of heartache for you, the reader. You will feel that anger, the sadness felt by Abby as she watches her older brother cry, and the relief when she seems to be moving forward in the grieving process. As an adult who lost a parent to cancer when I was 14, I found the writing spot-on, with Abby's grieving process seeming to match much of what I remember from my youth. Highly recommended for ages 12 and up.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Well written! I recommend this book for adults as well as young adults. It was interesting the way the author progressed from a 13 year old voice to the voice of an older teen. Abby's move through grief to hope was insightful. My friends selected this book for their book club.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Cat711 More than 1 year ago
This book is a tearjerker, no doubt about it, but it was never sappy or depressing. I never felt like the author was looking to make readers sob - in fact, she lightens things up at the precise moments that the story starts to feel unbearably sad. What makes it yank at your heartstrings is the realness of it. The story and the characters feel so authentic that you forget that they are fictional, and the book is about ordinary people living ordinary lives, until their lives are turned upside down. And while the situations involving the "C" word are handled with care, the author doesn't sugarcoat things or wrap things up in a tidy little package when the family is ready to "move on", and she doesn't add eccentric characters or quirky dialogue just to make the book different from other books about the death of a parent. The story and the writing stand on their own, and while the book does end hopefully, it embraces the fact that one never "gets over" the death of a loved one. I think Sign Language would be a great book to include in grief counseling.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
The_Reading_Housewives More than 1 year ago
Sign Language has nothing to do with the sign language you may be thinking of, trust me I was thinking of ASL when I read the title as well. This book is about a twelve-year-old girl who struggles with finding out her father has cancer. I cried the most during this book than any other book I've ever read. I used to have a book in mind I would mention whenever someone mentioned crying while reading; this book has taken its place. The first-half of the book was gut-wrenching. I put the book down a few times to stop crying and to get my head back in the game. I cried less during the second-half, but I still enjoyed the last section of the book. We get to read about Abby from the ages of 12-15. I talk about this often, but usually I avoid books that have character(s) this young. Something about the description pulled me into wanting to read this; I'm SO happy I did! We get to experience how she feels and how different she is through three years of her life. How someone can change and grow, but in many ways stay the same is shown in this book. Looking back at the book now, I think Abby goes through every stage of grief, so we get to see her emotions go haywire at times. "He spoke to her. Not directly, mind you. Abby didn't hear God's voice; He communicated with her in writing on a three-dimensional pyramid afloat in deep blue liquid inside a black orb. He would answer her questions, but only those requiring a YES, NO, or MAYBE. God spoke to Abby through her Magic Eight Ball." We all remember Magic Eight Balls like the one on the cover, right? Abby isn't a religious person, she only turns to God when something horrible happens and when she wants a sign, but she does speak to God a few times during the book by using her Magic Eight Ball. Her doing this made me smile and laugh a bit, but it also was sad that she turned to an inanimate object to answer questions and to make her feel better. This book has taught me not to assume. I have children of my own and even though they are young, I need to remember that just because I know how something works doesn't mean my children or anyone else around me does for that matter. You need to TALK and discuss with your children even though you yourself may be going through something difficult as well. I wish Abby's mom would have been more vocal to her children in regards to their father. I do understand parents make mistakes and maybe her mom would have done things differently if she could. I couldn't find anything wrong with Sign Language. It's a novel I think everyone should experience. Whether you're young or old, even if you don't particularly enjoy young adult fiction, I think you'll enjoy this one! P.S. I just noticed I wrote this very long review, my reviews are never this long, and I didn't even mention the boy! I will say this, there is a boy that is there for Abby from the beginning and he is the SWEETEST thing ever!
Anonymous More than 1 year ago