Third in a series of reviews about deaf characters and their siblings, Of Sound Mind zeroes in on the burdens a CODA (child of deaf adults) carries when his parents cannot or will not connect with the hearing world.
Theo, a senior in high school, learned sign language before he learned to talk.. His mom is a famous artist—with a stereotypical temperament to match—and his dad is a carpenter. Both are deaf and rarely speak, which means Theo is their live-in interpreter. He hates the never-ending responsibility. Then there’s Theo’s little brother Jeremy, who is also deaf.
A loner, Theo takes refuge in mathematics until he meets Ivy. Ivy lives with her deaf father, also serves as his interpreter on occasion, but she embraces the world with a vitality that Theo has never witnessed before. He’s smitten.
As he spends more and more time with Ivy, he meets her dad and the people she serves in her after-school catering business. She welcomes Theo’s family into her circle, especially Jeremy, who is one lonely little kid. Theo begins to dream he can break free of the family chains and actually attend MIT next year. Then his dad has a stroke, and the dream disintegrates. It’s Ivy who provides a solution to the dilemma, at which point Theo must come to terms with the flaws in himself.
- Jean Ferris provides the best view of Deaf Culture at home that I’ve ever read. She has Theo point out where hearing people commit errors in etiquette, from turning away while you’re speaking to grabbing a person’s hands who is signing.
- In life, people make choices as to how they will respond to the situations that come up. Ferris demonstrates how a hearing child living with deaf parents reacts in a variety of ways. Theo started to look at his life more optimistically with Ivy’s help. Ivy also had to face some of the negatives in her life, things she had repressed, covering them with an almost-manic desire to nurture others.
For some younger readers in this overlapping category of middle grade and young adult, the life issues that come up might be overwhelming. Theo’s mother is not in the least bit motherly, and his father dies. Ivy’s mother abandoned her.
- If you were the only hearing person in your family, would you resent being given the job of interpreter for your parents and brothers and sisters, or would you be happy to help out every day?
- Why did Theo’s mother refuse to talk in public (and hardly ever at home either)?
- Why did Theo resent other people coming in to help his dad, even when they knew sign language?
- Theo decided to attend MIT in spite of everything that went wrong. Why did he make that decision?
With the best of intentions, people often fall into the trap of needing to be needed. Of Sound Mind teaches us how to climb out of that trap.