Thirteen year-old Joey is used to being left out of conversations. She’s been deaf since the age of six, but her mother’s refusal to let her learn sign language has forced her to rely on lip-reading — a practice that any deaf person will tell you is always difficult, and sometimes impossible.
But an accidental meeting with Dr. Charles Mansell and his chimpanzee Sukari changes Joey’s life forever. Her new friends speak with sign language; excited to communicate, Joey begins teaching herself sign in secret.
But even as her horizons expand, those of her new friends contract — and soon Joey must embark on a journey to save Sukari from the worst of enemies.
Imagine a silent world
My heart ached for Joey. Hurt Go Happy begins in 1991, by which time there was fortunately a good deal of understanding of the mechanics of deafness, and our main character at least receives speech therapy and uses a headphone/microphone system at school that allows her to hear the teacher.
It’s the lack of understanding of deaf culture that is the really sad part. Joey’s lack of communication skills makes her a target for bullies. Even her friends are only “friends” in the loosest sense, and her classmates’ ignorance forces her to shy away from using the headphones to hear her teachers. She doesn’t like to read aloud in class because her voice doesn’t sound right. She lives in a mostly silent world, unable to communicate with almost anyone but her mother.
Joey’s mother behaves the way—so I’m led to believe—many parents behave when they have a deaf child: she doesn’t want Joey to learn sign because she thinks it will make Joey stand out, and make people pity her. Her fear comes from a good place, but it has left her 13 year-old in a silent world, closed off from friends and opportunities.
It is merely by happenstance that Joey meets Charlie Mansell and Sukari. It is these two that finally bring light and communication into Joey’s life, and there is trouble from the start.
Joey’s mother is dead-set against Joey’s friendship with Charlie and his “monkey.” But what exactly is she afraid of, Joey’s standing out and being pitied, or the anger that will inevitably turn on her for her own part in Joey’s deafness?
My kind of heroine
I loved Joey. She begins the story as a small, quiet, shy little thing, and it was amazing to see her grow and strengthen and bloom into the young woman with whom I would love to be friends.
Were Joey a real person, I don’t think she would consider herself brave, but that’s what she is. It’s what she always was, and her willingness to defy her mother and learn to sign gives her just the push she needs to be brave when another’s life depends on her being so.
Read this right now
I can’t go into much more detail without giving the plot away, but suffice to say that Joey’s rebellion, unlike many teens’, is something that saves her life — and Sukari’s.
I wish I could remember from which blogger I heard about Hurt Go Happy, so I can hit them as hard as possible, and then we can hug each other and weep. This book was excellent and painful and hopeful, and left me a soggy pile of tears at the end. If you haven’t read it, you should.