Reasons for Inclusion: Chinese-inspired world, protagonist’s community is entirely deaf and some people are blind as well. Accurate depiction of sign language as the chief form of communication.
I really enjoyed this story but the ending was a bit too rushed which leaves me with a 4.5 star rating.
Soundless opens in a barren mining village on top of a mountain cut off from the world, their only contact to the outside world is a zip line that ferries down ore and up rations from the town at the foot of the mountain. The village is slowly starving to death due to ever decreasing rations and the villagers slowly going blind and being unable to work. And blindness is an even bigger problem for this village than you’d think because the villagers are already deaf.
Amidst all this doom and gloom our protagonist Fei awakes one morning with the ability to hear- not that she understands that she is hearing at first. There’s a great scene where Fei reads a scroll written to capture the meaning and vocabulary of sound as the village was going deaf generations ago. She delves into loud and soft, screams and laughter, whistles and rattles. All those words the hearing population doesn’t give a second thought to but she has to figure out how to apply them to the sensations of sound.
With Fei’s sister going blind and the food situation becoming ever more dire, the quest to save her family and the village evolves and carries readers along.
I felt that the Fei was a strong but realistic teen girl and that the romantic sub-plot was not over-wrought as can often happen in YA. Yes, she did get distracted by the cute boy but she also stood up to him and made her own choices.
I guess I should also point out that the story is set in a Chinese based culture. I know some reviewers have said the novel wasn’t reflective of that setting I felt that it was. It wasn’t in-your-face about that fact (when story are in-your-face I find it annoying and a bit offensive since it seems to be trying to exploit the sense of exotic) but the culture is extremely present. The cultural hierarchy of elders, bowing as greeting, clothing style and the importance of silk, the mythological creatures, art style and calligraphy, and the entire funeral scene come to mind first. Also the foods throughout the story are very traditional Chinese ingredients- millet porridge, persimmons, radishes, and rice wine are what I remember without looking back over the book.
The author had an authentic grip on the limitations of sign language for communication- sight lines have to be maintained, characters have to put down objects in their hands to hold a conversation, the ability to work and talk at the same time is nearly non-existent. I really appreciated that attention to detail since my dad is deaf and any slip-ups would have really pulled me out of the story.
Overall, a solid YA fantasy especially those looking for more diverse characters.
*This is an honest review of a book I won through Goodreads giveaways*