Rowena’s review of Sign Language by Amy Ackley.
Main Character: Abby
Love Interest: ??
Twelve-year-old Abby North’s first hint that something is really wrong with her dad is how long it’s taking him to recover from what she thought was routine surgery. Soon, the thing she calls “It” has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence, the boy across the street. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore. Amy Ackley’s impressive debut is wrenching, heartbreaking, and utterly true.
It’s been a long time since I was twelve years old but man do I remember when I got my period for the first time. Mine didn’t happen at all like Abby’s did in this book and boy am I glad. Though I did have my best girl there to help me through everything like Abby did, I started at home and that’s something that I thank my lucky stars for because Abby started at school with kids pointing and laughing at her, the poor girl.
This book isn’t about a girl who started her period though, it’s about a girl who’s father is diagnosed with cancer and while I was reading it, I could see the steps that cancer takes when it comes bursting into your life. The endless trips to the hospital for treatments, the devastation you feel when you realize that the cancer is real and reading this book took me right back to September 2, 2010 when I found out that my 14 year old nephew was diagnosed with osteosarcoma, which is bone cancer.
I was thirty when I found out about RJ and it hit me hard, it hit my daughter Brenna hard as well. She cried for days, worried sick about her cousin in Colorado. One of my favorite things about my family is that all of our kids are close. Growing up, there were plenty times when my Mom and Dad would introduce us to our cousins and we’d never keep in touch so every couple of years, we’d have to be re-introduced to them. The only cousins that we knew were my Uncle Pete’s kids from my Mom’s side and a handful of my cousins on my Dad’s side. Our kids not only know each other but they’re all friends, they all grew up together even when my sister Helen moved from L.A. to San Diego and then on to Colorado, our kids were still extremely close. When we told the kids about RJ, there was a cloud of gloom that followed every single one of us and the kids around for weeks afterward. Chance, who is RJ’s best friend couldn’t get to Colorado fast enough. I remember the night that Chance found out, he got off the phone with RJ and walked right out of the house. He disappeared for hours that night and when he came back, his eyes were bloodshot but you could see the desire to understand everything in his eyes as he walked over to the computer and pored over everything he could find on RJ’s condition.
His parents did everything they could to make sure that Chance could fly out there and be with RJ during his first week of treatment. Before his first trip, he read everything he could and prepared himself mentally to be there for his best friend.
In this book, you see the parents trying to protect Abby from the truth about her Dad’s illness. You see the way that Abby and her brother Josh react to the news of their father’s cancer and you see them react totally different to the news. Josh kind of checks out mentally and Abby tries harder than ever to make sure nobody found out about her Dad. She even tried hiding the truth of it all from her best friend Spence.
Spence. What a star that kid was. I adored him from the very beginning and over the course of the book, adored him more and more.
Reading this book took me back to this past April. It took me back to after my Mom died and I had absolutely no clue what to do next. Like both Josh and Abby, I never really thought my Mom would die, until she did. When that happened, I was at a complete loss as to what to do next. I remember texting James and telling him that my Mom died and that I wasn’t going to be in the office at all that week. I remember asking him to tell everyone. I sent an email to Ames and Izzy and asked them to let my readers here know what happened. I remember going home from the hospital and sitting with my sisters, too stunned to talk or plan, to stunned to think.
Reading as Abby went through these same exact things made this book really come alive for me. I wouldn’t say that I enjoyed it all but I was interested enough to keep reading. I thought Ackley did a fabulous job of capturing the thought processes that go through your mind when you lose someone you love a great deal. The confusion, the grief. It’s all in this book and it’s raw and real.
This book is told in a before and after. Before the death, it reminded me so much of when I found out about RJ and after the death, it put me right back to this past April when my Mom died. This book came full circle for Abby and for me as well. I ended up being so glad that I read this book because I could relate to this story but there were parts of the book that I couldn’t relate to at all. I’ve never been the kind of girl to blow up at everyone around me for no particular reason other than because I wanted to. Abby was very volatile and even though I understand why, when she would blow up at her Mom and at Spence, I would get so angry at her because like teens could be, she was so flippin’ selfish.
Throughout all of this, my heart went out to Spence the most because even though he wasn’t a blood relative of Abby’s family, he was still mourning the loss of Abby’s Dad too. He was hurting and he missed Abby’s Dad but Abby was much too lost in her own grief to realize any of that. Every time she snapped at Spence and every time she pushed Spence away, I wanted to backhand her.
But alls well that ends well and I ended up enjoying this book. It was like taking a walk down memory lane and I related to the telling of this story more than I thought I would. It’s not one of those happy joy joy kind of books but it’s interesting and it gives an inside look to what your friends are going through when they lose a parent. It sheds light on what is going through people’s head (teens mainly) when their parents die. It puts you in their shoes for a few hours and it’s good to know so that you’re not left wondering.
..and that’s your scoop!
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Book cover and blurb credit: http://barnesandnoble.com