Going to school and making new friends can be tough. But going to school and making new friends while wearing a bulky hearing aid strapped to your chest? That requires superpowers! In this funny, poignant graphic novel memoir, author/illustrator Cece Bell chronicles her hearing loss at a young age and her subsequent experiences with the Phonic Ear, a very powerful—and very awkward—hearing aid. The Phonic Ear gives Cece the ability to hear—sometimes things she shouldn’t—but also isolates her from her classmates. She really just wants to fit in and find a true friend, someone who appreciates her as she is. After some trouble, she is finally able to harness the power of the Phonic Ear and become “El Deafo, Listener for All.” And more importantly, declare a place for herself in the world and find the friend she’s longed for.
A bout of childhood meningitis left Bell (Rabbit & Robot: The Sleepover) deaf at age four, and she was prescribed a Phonic Ear, with a receiver draped across her chest and a remote microphone her teachers wore. Her graphic memoir records both the indignities of being a deaf child in a hearing community ("IS. THAT. AAAY. HEAR-ING. AAAID?") and its joys, as when she discovers that the microphone picks up every word her teacher says anywhere in the school. Bell's earnest rabbit/human characters, her ability to capture her own sonic universe ("eh sounz lah yur unnah wawah!"), and her invention of an alter ego the cape-wearing El Deafo, who gets her through stressful encounters ("How can El Deafo free herself from the shackles of this weekly humiliation?" she asks as her mother drags her to another excruciating sign language class) all combine to make this a standout autobiography. Cece's predilection for bursting into tears at the wrong time belies a gift for resilience that makes her someone readers will enjoy getting to know. Ages 8 12.