I received an advance reader’s copy (ARC) of The Sign for Home by Blair Fell. Since this version is just a proof and not the final version, I won’t quote directly and will keep my comments general.
In The Sign for Home, Arlo has spent years nursing a broken heart after losing his girlfriend to tragedy. Moreover, his controlling uncle has encouraged him never to speak of her. But when he gets into a creative writing class, and is assigned a personal essay about a difficult time in his life, Arlo feels torn between obeying his uncle and writing the paper with honesty. Meanwhile, Arlo’s new sign language interpreter, Cyril, is grappling with something as well. The more Cyril learns about this new DeafBlind man’s life, the more he wants to help—even if that assistance is far out of the usual realm of interpreting. Even if it means helping Arlo outright defy his uncle to find the girl who got away.
First of all, I’ve never read a book that features the perspective of someone who’s DeafBlind at all, much less as a main character. So this book was really wonderful from that perspective!
I quite liked Arlo for the most part, as well as Cyril. They’re both complex people, and their growing friendship was really sweet to see. I liked how protective Cyril was toward Arlo, but also that he recognized that Arlo was an adult capable of making his own decisions. I didn’t love Hanne, but I really enjoyed the development that Professor Bahr gets—I wish we’d seen more of her, especially toward the end of the story! She just sort of fell by the wayside, and that’s a shame.
On another note, the scenes that deal with etiquette when dealing with someone who’s DeafBlind were excellent—neither too preachy nor too vague, just the right balance of entertaining and educational. I know some things about how ASL works and how to interact with Deaf sighted people, but I’m almost entirely ignorant of DeafBlind culture. So to experience the world through Arlo was fascinating; Fell clearly has done research, talked to DeafBlind people, and made sure to make this as sensitive and as accurate as he can. Of course, Arlo’s experience isn’t representative of all DeafBlind people, but Fell makes that clear, too. The nuance is pretty well presented. Also, I had never heard of pro-tactile ASL or haptics before, and wow! So cool!
As for the actual plot of this, it was okay. I found some aspects of the romance to be kind of weird, and I wasn’t that invested in it. I know I should have been, since it’s Arlo’s main motivation, but I mostly cared about whether he got away from his uncle’s control, not if he got the girl back. So there was a little disconnect there. However, I still found the last act especially to be a compelling read; I finished this entire novel in two days, in fact! And while the conclusion seemed a little convenient and not entirely realistic (they aren’t going to face any consequences? really?) I still walked away pretty satisfied.
In the end, The Sign for Home is an emotional story about finding connection, about independence, and about love. The characters are decent, but the romance kind of missed the mark for me. The writing is overall good, though I didn’t love all of the content. The area where this book really shines, though, is the excellent portrayal of the life of a DeafBlind man, and of the Deaf and DeafBlind culture. You’ll surely walk away from this book feeling more educated, more empathetic, and (in my case, at least) more interested than ever in learning more sign language.
Content note: There is some violence in the form of bullying in the flashback scenes, as well as some sexual content. It’s fairly mild compared to other works, though, and I’d probably call this PG-13 at most.
The Sign for Home will be published on April 5th, 2022!