This fantastic middle grade follow up to Show Me a Sign does not disappoint! With a breakneck pace I could not put it down.
Three years after being kidnapped and rendered a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment to determine the cause of her deafness, fourteen year old Mary Lambert is summoned from her home in Martha’s Vineyard to the mainland to teach a younger deaf girl to communicate with sign language. She can’t help but wonder, Can a child of eight with no prior language be taught? Still, weary of domestic life and struggling to write as she used to, Mary pours all her passion into the pursuit of freeing this child from the prison of her isolation. But when she arrives at the manor, Mary discovers that there is much more to the girl’s story — and the circumstances of her confinement — than she ever could have imagined. Freeing her suddenly takes on a much greater meaning — and risk. from Goodreads.
Frequently, as avid readers, we say, “I couldn’t put it down,” when effusively describing a book we loved. With this book, I literally could not put it down. I sat, paced, poured coffee all over the counter, just generally did whatever I had to do to avoid having to stop reading. I read the whole thing in one morning and I loved it all.
Author Ann Clare LeZotte has been deaf since childhood. In her own words, “…I don’t believe there’s one right way to be D/deaf. I don’t like to see hierarchies or purity tests among D/deaf people, and I support the recent movement to not distinguish between deaf and Deaf.” from Ann Clare LeZotte’s own site. I applaud the author for her refusal to gate-keep because the reality is access to language and services can vary wildly depending on where you are born. LeZotte states that she kept in touch with her d/Deaf library youth during the pandemic who were learning at home with families who could not sign. Statistics tell us that more than 90% of deaf children are born to hearing parents. Without support, it is difficult for hearing parents to learn ASL and that leaves the child living in a home with no language access or educational support. Set Me Free may be historical fiction but there are many children here in the United States that are currently denied language access in one way or another.
Set Me Free takes place three years after the events of Show Me a Sign and the author takes you immediately back to Martha’s Vineyard and the world of Mary Lambert. Mary is struggling because her schooling is technically over, her best friend has moved away, her writing is no longer providing her an outlet, and she feels like everyone knows how to grow up except for her. Like so many of us at a turning point of life, when presented the opportunity to do something Mary ran toward it – ready or not!
Like with Show me a Sign, LeZotte’s writing highlights the historic racism, ableism, and colonialism that was prevalent in America (and still are!). Like many well written middle grade books you can read the story and just enjoy the action or you can dig into the themes and contemplate what it would be like to be regarded as so undeserving that you were denied basic access to language. I could not stop thinking about why marginalized people, like the Deaf colonizers, felt that they had the right to oppress the indigenous population of the Island. Each hurt character in turn hurt other characters. Some of the themes were subtle and nuances and others came screaming off the page. And, I loved it.
If you are in search of a middle grade historic fiction this Own Voices story is absolute perfection.
Tell me, please. What is the last book you just couldn’t put down?