True Biz by Sara Nović
Summary: True biz (adj/exclamation; American Sign Language): really, seriously, definitely, real-talk
True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history final, and have doctors, politicians, and their parents stop telling them what to do with their bodies. This revelatory novel plunges readers into the halls of a residential school for the deaf, where they’ll meet Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who’s never met another deaf person before; Austin, the school’s golden boy, whose world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing; and February, the headmistress, who is fighting to keep her school open and her marriage intact, but might not be able to do both. As a series of crises both personal and political threaten to unravel each of them, Charlie, Austin, and February find their lives inextricable from one another–and changed forever.
This is a brutal, glorious read that invites hearing readers into the perspectives of members of the Deaf community, and gives Deaf readers a mirror of their own beautiful, complex culture that is rarely seen in written literature. The author provides background and context for readers unfamiliar with ASL and Deaf Culture through strategically placed handouts from Charlie’s history class that explain everything from name signs to the impact of Deaf President Now. Every word, every sign illustration, every snippet of dialogue works together to create a verbal picture – even the formatting. Over the years, novelists have used many different methods to show ASL, which has no written form, on the page. Nović’s approach is astonishingly effective. Spoken dialogue contains no quotation marks, with nothing to set it apart from narration; it is simply part of the visual landscape, just as it would be for a Deaf person attempting to speechread. Signed communication, in contrast, is italicized and located in different places on the page to represent who is communicating. This creates a sense of visual distinction and echoes the use of space in American Sign Language. Nović expertly weaves in multiple character points of view to showcase the diversity of the Deaf community, exploring everything from cochlear implants to Black ASL to the state of residential schools to the struggle of CODAs (hearing children of deaf adults) to move between two worlds – all with a nuance, authenticity, and depth rarely seen in mainstream literature. With so many weighty topics to explore, a lesser author would get bogged down. But Nović’s story soars as it navigates the shifting relationships at its heart, always returning to the connections woven in the community.
TRUE BIZ is out now.