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
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.
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.
Why I love it
Actress, Hawkeye and Dickinson
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!
Member ratings (14,869)
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! ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Kansas City, MO
Couldn’t put it down! I learned so much about deaf culture and history. What a wonderful story mixed with a way to learn about something I don’t know much about. Do wish there was some better closure.
There are no words to describe the impact this book had on me, and that’s exactly what’s at the heart of this novel; people with language withheld from them. Read this, and then tell everyone else to.
This was a powerful story centering the Deaf community’s resilience, strength, and overwhelming value to the world. The oppression they face from the mainstream persists. I wished this book didn’t end
Sun Prairie, WI
Usually I don’t like books with multiple viewpoints, but I deeply cared for all the characters in this story and couldn’t get enough. I wish there was a more complete ending, but overall amazing read!