From seismic coming-of-age shifts in students, to the middle age crises of a headmistress, this incisive story set in a school for the deaf is a luminous ode to Deaf culture and political awakening.
Driven by the interlinked lives of a headteacher and one of her pupils, Sara Novic’s True Biz is an incredibly compelling, stirring story that takes in civil rights and disability rights through the coming-of-age tumult of a rebellious deaf teenager. As Charlie tackles the challenges of being brought up in a hearing household and how she’s been treated by the medical profession, headteacher February faces a fight to keep her school open, and her marriage on track.
Until she starts at River Valley School for the Deaf, Charlie has never met a deaf person. Her hearing parents are divorced, and her relationship with her mother has always been a fractious tinderbox. Amidst this turmoil, Charlie arrives at her new school unable to sign, with a cochlear implant that’s done little to help her — “the language acquisition skills the doctors had promised post-implant had been slow to materialise”.
Through Charlie’s longstanding, painful problems with her implant, True Biz addresses the ethics of non-consensual implants, and also tells of “hospital horror stories” experienced by deaf patients, with medical professionals overlooking, disregarding, or not recognising cries for help.
The story is also interspersed with information on ASL (America Sign Language) and Deaf history. For example, we learn how Alexander Graham Bell propagated eugenics in his belief that sign language should be eradicated, and that Black ASL (BASL) developed as a result of the segregation of students. True Biz also reveals enduring racism towards BASL — how the language is stigmatised.
At school, while Charlie tries to fit in and find friends, she experiences the awakenings of first love and lusts, and comes to a political awakening, too. The various characters’ stories are brilliantly interlinked, and make for a tremendously powerful novel that’s tender, absorbing and altogether illuminating.
True biz (adj./exclamation; American Sign Language): really, seriously, definitely, real-talk
True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history finals, and have politicians, doctors, and their parents stop telling them what to do with their bodies. This revelatory novel plunges readers into the halls of a residential school for the deaf, where they'll meet Charlie, a rebellious transfer student who's never met another deaf person before; Austin, the school's golden boy, whose world is rocked when his baby sister is born hearing; and February, the headmistress, who is fighting to keep her school open and her marriage intact, but might not be able to do both. As a series of crises both personal and political threaten to unravel each of them, Charlie, Austin, and February find their lives inextricable from one another - and changed forever.
This is a story of sign language and lip-reading, disability and civil rights, isolation and injustice, first love and loss, and, above all, great persistence, daring, and joy. Absorbing and assured, idiosyncratic and relatable, this is an unforgettable journey into the Deaf community and a universal celebration of human connection.
|Publication date:||21st April 2022|
|Publisher:||Little, Brown an imprint of Little, Brown Book Group|
|Primary Genre||Sharing Diverse Voices|
Goodness, I can't even begin to put into words all the feelings this book provoked!...An eye-opening and heartfelt story about human connection and the beauty and adversity woven into the deaf community and culture. It is both an educational and electrifying peek into a family's life as they fight to forge connections even as the outside world threatens to close the door on them. I loved this story so much, it is not one to miss - Reese Witherspoon (Reese's Book Club April '22 Pick)
Tender, beautiful and radiantly outraged...True Biz is moving, fast-paced and spirited... Novic, who is deaf and spent time at deaf schools researching the novel, makes an urgent and heartfelt case for the schools' importance in providing language access, and in nurturing community and a sense of self. Great stories create empathy and awareness more effectively than facts do, and this important novel should - true biz - change minds and transform the conversation. - Maile Meloy, New York Times Book Review
For those who loved the Oscar-winning film CODA, a boarding school for deaf students is the setting for a kaleidoscope of experience - Washington Post
Part tender coming of age story, part electrifying tale of political awakening, part heartfelt love letter to Deaf culture, True Biz is a wholly a wonder. Sara Novic examines the ways language can include, exclude, or help forge an identity - as well as what it means to carve out a place for yourself in a world that sees you as other - Celeste Ng
I fell in love with Sara Novic's True Biz from the first page: delicate, nuanced, playful, and at the same time sweeping in its ideas and reach, this book is a literary novel that is a page turner with a vision which will speak to many a reader in our times and beyond. Sara Novic is one of the best writers of my generation - not justthe* novelist of Deaf culture, but of human nature writ large. Do yourself a favor and get this book- it is inimitable - Ilya Kaminsky, author of Deaf Republic and Dancing in Odessa
I loved True Biz, it's warm, complex and compelling. Of course I love the way it provides a window into a culture that will be unfamiliar to many of us, but what really marks it out is its humanity and intelligence - the threads of coming-of-age, birth, death, and all the rites of passage are interwoven brilliantly, surrounding a core of passion for justice and equality.' - Bridget Collins
This is my favorite kind of novel, fascinating and smart and brimming with contrasts. It's a coming-of-age story but also one of anarchy and protest. It's about the ways communities are bound but also the ways they bind. It's about belonging versus conforming, individual strength alongside solidarity. I laughed. I learned. I entered a world I knew too little about, at once different from mine and of course the same. I will be recommending this book to absolutely everyone - Laurie Frankel, New York Times bestselling author of This Is How It Always Is and One Two Three
Reading True Biz was a transformative experience - it's as important a book as I've read in years. I was in awe of the care and love and hard-won wisdom that went into the writing of it. Sara Novic is the real deal - Jami Attenberg, author of All This Could Be Yours
True Biz is exquisitely crafted and absolutely riveting - Vendela Vida, author of We Run the Tides
Sara Novic's gifts for character, story, and language are evident from the first page. True Biz feels like the discovery of a new written form, a love letter to language itself - Liz Moore, New York Times bestselling author of Long Bright River
Rollicking, immersive, and boldly, exquisitely felt, True Biz delves into the deepest questions about community, communication, and collective action, inviting the reader into a world of language made new - Alexandra Kleeman, author of Something New Under the Sun
An electrifying narrativeset at a present-day boarding school for Deaf high school students, where they find love and friendship and battle a series of injustices...With complex characters seething with rage against the injustices they face, and an immersive and novel treatment of Charlie's experience learning ASL, Novic offers an unforgettable homage to resilience. This is brilliant - Publishers Weekly starred review
Tender, beautiful and radiantly outraged...True Biz is moving, fast-paced and spirited - we have vivid access to all of the main characters' points of view - but also skillfully educational: The lessons Charlie learns about A.S.L. and deaf culture are interspersed in the text and illustrated by Brittany Castle. Novic, who is deaf and spent time at deaf schools researching the novel, makes an urgent and heartfelt case for the schools' importance in providing language access, and in nurturing community and a sense of self. Great stories create empathy and awareness more effectively than facts do, and this important novel should - true biz - change minds and transform the conversation. -- Maile Meloy - New York Times
Sara Novic teaches in the Popular Fiction MFA program at Emerson College, and is an instructor of Deaf studies at Stockton University. Her first novel, Girl at War, won the American Library Association's Alex Award, and was a finalist for the Los Angeles Times Book Prize. Novic has an MFA in fiction and literary translation from Columbia University, and lives with her family in Philadelphia. Follow Sara on Instagram: @photonovicMore About Sara Novic