Novic highlights American Deaf culture in True Biz, primarily following three people: Charlie, a new student at River Valley School for the Deaf (RVSD); February, headmistress of the school; and Austen, a deaf student from a deaf family in the area.
Charlie’s suffered most of her life with a malfunctioning cochlear implant. She hasn’t been afforded an opportunity to learn sign language, and is fairly behind students her age when she transfers to RSVD. February wants the best for her school and students, but seems to be losing the battle against the school district administration. Her marriage seems to be in shambles. Austen’s sister is born hearing, causing a bit of an identity crisis for him.
To me, Charlie and her friends are the most interesting parts of the book, as the book treats her story as a sort of coming-of-age. She undergoes the most growth in the book, whereas other potentially sub-main characters feel, to me, that they’re placed as set pieces for Charlie to interact with.
For example, Charlie’s roommate, Kayla, exists solely to demonstrate the differences between American Sign Language and Black American Sign Language. Once her point is made that racism exists within the Deaf community, how that looks like, and why, she essentially disappears from the story.
I felt that Novic’s primary purpose is to show the challenges that Deaf culture faces by sprinkling in bits of history, instructional sign language, and questions posed to the reader throughout. I don’t feel that Novic’s critique is wrong, but I do feel that it comes away heavy handed. It doesn’t pull any punches for the readers’ sake.
As a story, it doesn’t work for me. I felt that the characters exist solely to channel the author’s views, not to help the reader come to a new, long-lasting epiphany. There isn’t a true resolution; that’s left as an exercise to the reader (literally, Novic ends the book in an afterword that the future for people similar to those in the book depends on the reader).
If you expect your stories to have a resolution, this book isn’t for you. However, if you don’t mind the story missing a resolution, and you’re interested in learning about other cultures through story, this could work for you.