Whisper (by Chrissie Keighery)

I had never heard of Chrissie Keighery. Apparently she’s an English teacher in Australia, and has written a large number of children’s and young adult books, also using her married name Chrissie Perry. I hadn’t heard of this book until I happened to read a review that sparked my interest. Then I spotted it in the ‘bargain bin’ at the AwesomeBooks site.

The protagonist of ‘Whisper’ is 16-year-old Demi. Two years before the story began, she became profoundly deaf. She has a supportive family and some good friends, but she has been struggling in her school, finding it very difficult to lip read and to keep up. So, rather to her mother’s dismay, she has decided to move to a college for the Deaf.

When we meet Demi on the bus, terrified about starting at her new school, she’s a normal teenager struggling to deal with her disability. She comes across as very human and likeable, and seeing the world from her eyes helped me understand just how difficult an ordinary bus journey would be for someone with no hearing. People - mostly - don’t intend to be rude or discriminatory, they just don’t think.

Demi finds her new school very strange at first, and doesn’t feel as if she can fit in. Her signing isn’t as fluent as that of her new classmates, and she doesn’t know much about Deaf culture. She finds some of her fellow students a bit odd at first, but they’re friendly and welcoming, and gradually she starts to feel accepted.

Then Stella, who has been away, returns to the school. Stella’s parents are both profoundly deaf, and she has grown up to be angry about the way that deaf people are sometimes treated. She doesn’t realise that in her determination to stand up for her rights and to support those around her, she has become discriminatory towards the hearing majority…

It’s not a long book, but the characters feel three-dimensional and real, and the message is a powerful one. There are some thought-provoking scenes, some which moved me to anger on behalf of those with no hearing, and some which were moving in a different way. Demi’s three-year-old nephew is an utter delight, and Demi’s growth in maturity is believable, as she begins to find a balance between the two communities in which she now belongs.

Highly recommended for older children or teens, or indeed adults. There’s nothing inappropriate for a thoughtful child of eight or nine who reads fluently and doesn’t mind some low-key romance. It would make an excellent discussion starter for any group wanting to think about the ways disabled people are sometimes treated.

I shall be looking out for other books by this author in future. 'Whisper' is available in Kindle form as well as paperback, on both sides of the Atlantic as well as in Australia where it was first published.

Review copyright 2015 Sue's Book Reviews

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