True Biz

I devoured True Biz by Sara Nović (2022) as if I hadn’t read anything in months! True Biz has something for everyone: family dramas, coming-of-age stories, a would-be terrorist thriller, all interspersed with deaf history and “Did You Know” explanations of ASL, deaf history, and activism.

River Valley School for the Deaf, in southwest Ohio, is where February, the headmistress of this residential school, and child of deaf adults, interacts with Austin, a golden boy of deaf “royalty,” and Charlie, a 15-year old girl with cochlear implants who never learned sign language. February is struggling with an ailing mother and distance in her marriage (that she caused) when she learns that this is the last year for the school because of funding issues. Charlie’s (hearing) parents are divorced, and she’s struggled in school and with her perfectionist mother because her implant has never worked well. She doesn’t know how to sign, and she can’t hear well with her implant, so the rest of the world thinks she’s incapable of learning. But since she’s 15, she’s also rebellious and a risk-taker. Austin comes from a deaf family and a hearing/ ASL interpreter father, and his world is shaken when his baby sister is born hearing.

Nović ingeniously weaves speaking English and ASL into the dialogue with ASL shown in written English italics, with different speakers in different columns, and occasional diagrams, as Charlie is immersed in ASL and discovers a world where she can be understood. The title, “true biz,” is ASL slang and means “seriously” or “real talk” but doesn’t have an exact correlation in spoken English.

I was completely enthralled and highly recommend it–it begins with Charlie, Austin, and another student missing, while February as headmistress was responsible for their welfare, and then goes back in time to show how the characters got to that point. While there remains a ton to learn, it’s a good introduction to deaf culture if you like to learn by reading fiction. Bonus: it was completely weight-neutral, with not a description of a character’s body size as fat or thin.

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