Show Me A Sign

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Mary Lambert has always felt safe and protected on her beloved island of Martha's Vineyard. Her great-great-grandfather was an early English settler and the first deaf islander. Now, over a hundred years later, many people there -- including Mary -- are deaf, and nearly everyone can communicate in sign language. Mary has never felt isolated. She is proud of her lineage.

But recent events have delivered winds of change. Mary's brother died, leaving her family shattered. Tensions over land disputes are mounting between English settlers and the Wampanoag people. And a cunning young scientist has arrived, hoping to discover the origin of the island's prevalent deafness.

His maniacal drive to find answers soon renders Mary a "live specimen" in a cruel experiment. Her struggle to save herself is at the core of this penetrating and poignant novel that probes our perceptions of ability and disability. It will make you forever question your own ideas about what is normal.---from the publisher

288 pages                978-1338255812                       Ages 8-13

Keywords:  deafness, sign language, island, science experiment, medical ethics, person with a disability, historical fiction, racism, prejudice, Native American, family, tragedy, American history, 19th century, 8 year old, 9 year old, 10 year old, 11 year old, 12 year old, community

About the Author:

Ann Clare LeZotte is a Deaf librarian, and the author of T4, an ILA Notable Book for a Global Society, which Booklist called "a powerful debut." For years, Ann has given book talks, and disability and anti-bullying presentations in American Sign Language (ASL). Ann says, "I never had a romance about being 'special' or 'different.' I wished long and hard to be normal. A waste of time and a heartbreak I don’t want other young people to experience." In her free time, Ann enjoys swimming and walking her dog Perkins. She lives with her family in Gainesville, Florida.--from the publisher

************ “I pass a stretch of high road that I have come to avoid. I circle around it as if it is hallowed ground, and head back home. Leaves jump and twirl ahead of me; the wind beckons me toward a small graveyard. I choose to ignore its silent whispers.”

“While many people associate Martha’s Vineyard with being the home of the great white sharks in the 1975 movie “Jaws,” the island was better known before that time as an island with a high deaf population. How did that come to be?

Some early Vineyard settlers carried a gene for deafness (the first known deaf settler was Jonathan Lambert, 1694, according to a 2015 article in the Atlantic). Over years of marriage, generation after generation of children lived with hearing loss. At one point, one in four children on the island was born deaf.”

-- from “Deaf History on Martha’s Vineyard”

In 1805, 11-year-old Mary Lambert, the main character and narrator of SHOW ME A SIGN, is a fictional descendant of the aforementioned Jonathan Lambert. Mary and her father are deaf; her mother is not. Given the large deaf population on the island, most members of the community are adept at sign language.

Why does Mary avoid that stretch of the high road? Eight months before the story begins, a terrible tragedy occurred. Mary had been playing around by the high road with her beloved big brother George, who was not deaf. In the blink of an eye, George was run over and killed by a horse-drawn carriage, a moment after he shoved Mary out of its way, saving her life. Mary feels responsible for George’s death and has kept the details of how the tragedy occurred from her parents.

Mary’s mother remains inconsolable. She has left George’s room untouched, a shrine to her dead son. But Mary longs to find a special map George had drawn for her and her friend Nancy. So, one afternoon, she sneaks in.

“George’s books! Could he have tucked the map inside for safekeeping?

On a small shelf beside his bed are books that were never returned to Parson Thaxton. It is not like Mama to keep someone else’s property. Perhaps she couldn’t bear to part with anything left in George’s room and Papa paid to replace them.

I pick up a book of legends and flip through the pages. Nothing. Then a book of Latin grammar. Still nothing. When I open a book about local geography, the map falls out.

I unfold it and touch the lines. Lines that George drew. My mind conjures up his warmth and light. I try to hold on to the moment, but it fades.

Nancy and I had wanted a map of Chilmark. Not the kind cartographers make, but a map with all the places that are important to us. George counted drawing among his many talents, so he made it for us. He even included figures of me and Nancy walking on the high road and Smithy down by the Atlantic Ocean.

I touch the homes of families and friends we frequently visit, Ezra Brewer’s house, the Allen farm, select apple trees, Mr. Pye’s shop bellowing smoke, and the field where Mr. Butler’s oxen wandered when he left his gate open one night.

It is a map of memories.

George was always adding new touches. The most recent was Sarah Hillman running from the schoolyard to the fresh spring with angry hornets chasing her. George was working on Thomas carrying a bale of hay when the accident happened.

A salty tear drops onto the map and stains the ocean.”

After studying the map, Mary returns it to its hiding place.

But then Andrew Noble, a mysterious young man of science with a family connection to the local minister, arrives on the Island. He is seeking to determine why so many of the island’s inhabitants are deaf. He hypothesizes that there is some environmental factor causing the phenomenon, something residents consume or to which they are exposed.

(It’s important to recognize that this tale takes place a half-century before Darwin and Mendel put science on the road to understanding genetics.)

One evening, Mary’s mother gives George’s school books to Andrew Noble. Away with the books goes the hidden map. When Mary later sees Andrew preparing to depart the island, she is desperate to retrieve it. But when she intercepts Andrew and desperately tears into his baggage to find and retrieve the precious map, Andrew turns the tables. He subdues her and forcibly administers an inhalant that knocks her out. Mary awakens to find herself at sea, captive aboard Andrew’s schooner.

What does Andrew have in mind? Will she ever see Martha’s Vineyard again? Is she to serve as a live specimen for his investigation...or worse? How can Mary escape or make herself heard?

Author Ann Clare LeZotte, a Deaf librarian, has parlayed her knowledge and research into a first-rate historical thriller that will engage and enlighten young readers.

Recommended by: Richie Partington, MLIS, California USA

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