There’s a lot of talk about representation in fiction and how important it is. Since I’ve first learned about the concept I thought yea, everyone should be able to see themselves in books, and I’ve seen bits of me represented in books before outside of my gender and race. I’ve also seen its importance reflected in the lives of many others. I had an experience recently though that really hit me.
Signs of Attraction By Laura Brown, who is Hard of Hearing, is a book about a woman named Carli who is hard of hearing and was raised to hate that fact, feeling it makes her imperfect and that that imperfection is something to be reviled. She desperately tries to hide it out of embarrassment and fear of judgement. On the other side is Reed, a Deaf man who is completely comfortable with the fact.
The book is a contemporary romance, so there is a romance between the two during which Carli is introduced to the deaf community, meets more people who are hard of hearing and becomes comfortable with who she is.
This isn’t something I’ve mentioned on the blog, but I am Hard of Hearing. I have a profound hearing loss in one ear, for which I need a hearing aid. An aid that I didn’t get until High School because prior to that there weren’t hearing aids for my kind of hearing loss.
Now, unlike Carli I’ve never been terribly insecure about my hearing loss, my parents fought for every advantage I could get so growing up it was just another part of me. Prior to this book I honestly hadn’t thought much about it in years.
Signs of Attraction was my first exposure to the deaf/hard of hearing community, something I only learned about a few months early while doing research to write a deaf character in my WIP. I guess you could say it was the first time I’d seen hearing loss normalized as a thing for people my age, in books or in real life.
Maybe I never noticed much because it was just one of several weird things about me, but I don’t remember thinking much about it growing up. I could hear so I didn’t think I’d need ASL, so I didn’t try to learn it, I only had one friend growing up who were hard of hearing and we didn’t really talk about it, and we lost contact before I got an aid of my own. I never met anyone who was deaf.
I recently heard someone say representation makes people feel seen and found. I think found fits my feelings perfectly, like my eyes have opened to a whole new world that’s been there all along if only I could see it. Because of this book I am now doing more research, learning ASL and planning to take classes and I hope to meet more people who are deaf or hard of hearing.
Signs of Attraction also has wonderful representation of chronic pain and suicide, which Carli struggles with after events about half way through the book. She starts to have fears about herself and her future that hit me so hard and personally that I cried.
One of the best parts of the book was the uplifting ending, how hopeful it was and its message about belonging and overcoming obstacles in addition to the found family theme for which I am a complete sucker. It wasn’t a perfect book, I didn’t like how obsessed with sex everyone was. It wasn’t all hetero sex, but everyone seems too keen on it to me, plus the assumptions that any guy has had sex by his early 20’s, some of which could have simply been individual character attitudes.
This didn’t detract from the book though as a whole and it still has had a huge impact on me. Laura Brown clearly knows her stuff and her book has sent me onto a journey into the unknown yet strangely familiar. I look forward to the trip.