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True Biz by Sara Nović
Literary fiction

True Biz

by Sara Nović

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Quick take

What’s realer than real? This witty and life-affirming novel gives us the true biz about a school for the deaf.

Good to know

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_400

    400+ pages

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_MultipleNarrators

    Multiple viewpoints

  • Illustrated icon, Icon_Teen


  • Illustrated icon, Icon_NoQuotationMarks

    No quotation marks


True biz? The students at the River Valley School for the Deaf just want to hook up, pass their history final, and have doctors, politicians, 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, cochlear implants 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.

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Free sample

Get an early look from the first pages of True Biz.
True Biz

February Waters was nine years old when she—in the middle of math class, in front of everyone—stabbed herself in the ear with a number two Ticonderoga. Their teacher had been chalking the twelve times tables up on the board, providing February a window in which to sharpen the pencil, the grinding drawing her classmates up from their daydreams, their eyes following her across the room toward the teacher’s corner. February stepped unsteadily on the felted swivel chair, then planted herself in a wide stance on the desk and jammed the pencil deep into her left ear.

The class let out a collective gasp, breaking their teacher from her blackboard reverie. She hoisted February, who was bleeding more than she’d expected, from the desk in a fireman’s carry; February dripped a delicate trail of crimson all the way to the infirmary.

After the nurse removed the graphite and determined the damage was superficial, she gauzed up the bleeding and took February across the hall to the principal’s office, where the secretary produced a suspension form for “violent and disorderly conduct unbecoming of a student.” Then, once it was determined how, exactly, to contact her parents, she was sent home for the week.

Back in 4-B, February’s classmates hailed her as a hero, having sacrificed her very blood to buy them twenty-five minutes of unsupervised bliss. The school, on the other hand, deemed the incident a cry for help, given what the principal had taken to calling February’s “family circumstances.” Really, February explained to her father when he came to get her, she wasn’t upset at all, just tired of listening to the times tables, the buzz of the broken light above her desk, the screech of metal chairs against the floor. He didn’t know what it was like, having to hear things all the time, she told him. And with that he couldn’t argue.

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Why I love it

The term true biz is American Sign Language (ASL) slang that can be translated as: “seriously,” “literally,” “deadass,” “no kidding,” or “real talk.” The best coming-of-age tales are full of true biz, showing us young people grappling with their identities, ambitions, and communities. This messy work often involves many missteps and mistakes as characters journey into the biggest questions of life. The most compelling novels don’t shy away from this mess; if anything, they embrace it and its many lessons. Sara Nović’s remarkable new novel, aptly titled True Biz, is a masterful and unique addition to the coming-of-age canon chock-full of the titular stuff.

At the center of this novel is Charlie, a young deaf woman thrust as a HS junior into a boarding school for the deaf. She has a cochlear implant that frequently is on the fritz and causes her physical pain, and she lacks any signing fluency before her enrollment at River Valley School for the Deaf (RSVD). But with mentorship from February Waters, RSVD’s president (with plenty on her mind), and gradual support of her peers, Charlie slowly not only becomes a capable signer but becomes enmeshed in a vibrant world of deaf culture. As she moves further from fear and isolation into agency and curiosity, she explores all the classic pleasures and perils of adolescence: sex, politics, rock ‘n’ roll, and the eternal mysteries of Wikipedia. She is a remarkable character and a perfect companion to the reader on this journey into the past, present, and future of deaf life.

The riches of True Biz are too numerous to enumerate them all here. Suffice it to say that for me it contained welcome surprises on every page and some of the freshest writing I’ve encountered anywhere. From its explosive opening to its very last page, it is a delight. Run to it, fellow book lovers!

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Member ratings (15,431)

  • Jenna L.

    Woodbridge, VA

    This was an excellent look into the capital Deaf world and culture. I empathized with each character and personally felt February’s love and advocacy and fight for her students. True biz: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • VeronicaS B.

    Saratoga, WY

    I like when books have entertaining plots and characters I care about. I love when a book teaches me something new and gives me greater perspective. This book did all of the above! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

  • Emily M.

    Hillsboro, OR

    Wow!! I didn’t know what to expect from this one but I have to say it’s my favorite read this year so far. I have a new perspective on the deaf community and a better understanding because of this ⭐️

  • Marissa H.

    Cumming, GA

    Shining a light on Deaf Culture! I loved all of the ASL lessons included at the end of each chapter. Novic’s writing style made it easy to delineate how each character was communicating. ❤️ True Biz!

  • Marilyn R.

    Davis, CA

    So so so so amazing. I didn’t know anything about Deaf culture, history, or politics — and the writing is so exquisite and interesting that I’m feeling and learning so much the whole way. Bad ending.

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