Guest Author - Lorel Shea
.Of Sound Mind doesn't fit into any neat little box in my head. Though there is a sort of romance in it, it isn't anything like a typical teen romance book. The real story is about family relationships. It's a young adult novel, best for around age 12 plus. It's contemporary fiction, and a good read for both genders.
The central character is a high school senior named Theo. Theo is a gifted math student, but otherwise we know very little about his life at school. The majority of the novel is set at Theo's home, where he is the only hearing person. His high-strung, artist mother is deaf, as is his more level-headed Dad and his gentle younger brother, Jeremy. Theo is the family interpreter, a role that he resents yet is also proud of fulfilling. He's been the main source of communication with the hearing world since he was very young, and he has perfected the art of selective translation. When his mother signs rudely and accuses her dealer of not preparing adequately for her upcoming art show, Theo paraphrases her concerns very creatively. Thus he is not just passing on her words and changing them from ASL (American Sign Language) to spoken English, he is also thinking on his feet and ad libbing. It's no wonder that Theo finds interpreting for his mother to be exhausting!
Theo meets a girl who recognizes his ASL “muttering” and his initial reaction is to stay away from her. He's uncomfortable being known as the kid with deaf parents, and he feels like he fits neither here nor there, not quite belonging to either the deaf culture or that of the hearing world. He doesn't want to be seen at school talking in ASL. Nevertheless, he begins to watch for this new girl, and soon enough, they are good friends. Ivy helps Theo to see everything in a new light.
The author obviously knows her subject matter. She paints a realistic portrait, with plenty of subtle details that show her understanding of ASL and deaf culture. The deep suspicion that Theo's mother holds toward people with hearing, the terrible affront of her turning her back on someone during conversation, and Theo's wish that he could eavesdrop on his father and brother, who are in a different room; these all enrich the novel and give it life.
There were a few things I didn't like about this book. I would have enjoyed reading more about Theo's friends at school, and about his passion for math. A little too much attention seems focused on Ivy and her special interest. I got rather bored with the endless list of culinary delights. Overall though, this is a gem of a story, well told and original.