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YA Reivew: Words in My Hands by Asphyxia

Title: Words in My Hands
Author: Asphyxia
Year published: 2021
Category: YA fiction
Pages: 288 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Location: (my 2022 Google Reading map): Australia

SummarySet in an ominously prescient near future, The Words in My Hands is the story of Piper: sixteen, smart, artistic, and rebellious, she’s struggling to conform to what her mom wants—for her to be ‘normal,’ to pass as hearing, and get a good job. But in a time of food scarcity, environmental collapse, and political corruption, Piper has other things on her mind—like survival.

Deaf since the age of three, Piper has always been told that she needs to compensate in a world that puts those who can hear above everyone else. But when she meets Marley, a whole new world opens up—one where Deafness is something to celebrate rather than hide, and where resilience and hope are created by taking action, building a community, and believing in something better.

Published to rave reviews as Future Girl in Australia (Allen & Unwin, Sept. 2020), this unforgettable story is told through a visual extravaganza of text, paint, collage, and drawings that bring Piper’s journey vividly to life. Insightful, hopeful, and empowering, The Words in My Hands is very much a novel for our turbulent times.

Review: I chose to read this book because it won an American Library Association Youth Media Award for last year. By the time I picked it up to read it this week, I had forgotten what it was about and which award it won so went in with no expectations or concept of what was coming. By the way, it won the Schneider Award for best novel about a person with a disability. The main character is deaf.

This is a physically beautiful book with drawings/paintings on every page. The main character's artwork brings her story alive, allows the reader to see beyond the words on the page, and gives depth to the novel. The artwork forces the reader to slow down a bit to really look at the artwork and not just skim through the text; the reading experienced is definitely enhanced by the art.

I had no idea this novel was set in the future. A future without regular paper, with screens that connect everyone (ok, maybe not so science-fiction-y), and food that is processed. In fact, growing one's own food is not allowed, trees are destroyed, and activists work secretly to change all that. Piper just wants to be an artist. To put her ideas on paper and to take out her hearing aids.

The author of the book is d/Deaf, grew up oral (not signing), and her experiences shine through in this story. It is a love letter to the Deaf community, to signing, to activism of all kinds. I can see why this novel won the Schneider Book Award; it is well deserved.

Challenges for which this counts: 
  • Literary Escapes--Australia
  • YMA--Schneider Book Award for representation of a disability

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