A Sign of Her Own
Grade : A

A Sign of her Own is a beautiful twist on the real-life story of Ellen Lark, a prodigy of Alexander Graham Bell, who ended up – along with Bell’s deaf wife – influencing the invention of the telephone.

Ellen has been deaf since the age of four, when a bout of scarlet fever changed her life. Her sister, Mary, becomes her defender and advocate, and even helps her devise a form of sign language with which to communicate. Unfortunately, the ableist thinking of the time forced non hearing individuals to speak clearly, no matter the level of their hearing loss or inability to read lips. In time, Ellen becomes a student under Alexander Graham Bell, who teaches the Visible Speech technique to his students – guaranteed (as per his own publicity) to make a deaf person speak like a hearing one. Ellen comes to trust Bell, and becomes involved in his work on an experiment which will help the deaf to hear. She subsequently becomes involved in her teacher’s dream of creating the technology that he tells her will improve the lives of deaf people everywhere.

As Ellen’s life changes – to include a possible romance with a man named Frank who also happens to be deaf, Mary’s growing relationship with a man who might offer marriage looks likely to separate the sisters. At the same time, her involvement with the Bell experiment grows. But when she comes to learn that his true intent isn’t to help the deaf community at all, but to invent a telephone system for the hearing, her outrage leads to a plan to expose Graham Bell on the witness stand when he calls her in to help him defend a patent dispute in court. Will Ellen take a chance on revenge?

The writing here is so rich, and Sarah Marsh seems to wholeheartedly nail what it’s like being a deaf person who has to cope with hearing individuals. What she accomplishes with her prose is a truly startling, astonishing thing. She replicates the frustratingly mixed lack of information Ellen must cope with on a daily basis just to survive. The attitudes of others she brushes up against feel accurate to the period, and the research is excellent. Each new chapter opens up with a sign used to communicate during the period by those with hearing loss.

The character relationships are uniformly excellent. Bell and Ellen’s relationship is realistically fraught, and her romance with Frank is sweet but realistic. Especially good is the sisterly relationship between Ellen and Mary, which is handled with verve and sensitivity. Marsh’s style is beautiful as well, her prose beautifully gripping.

A Sign of her Own is easy to invest in, and Ellen is a wonderful heroine. What a fantastic book!

Reviewed by Lisa Fernandes
Grade : A

Sensuality: Subtle

Review Date : February 10, 2024

Publication Date: 

Review Tags: Biographical Fiction

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Lisa Fernandes

Lisa Fernandes is a writer, reviewer and recapper who lives somewhere on the East Coast. Formerly employed by Firefox.org and Next Projection, she also currently contributes to Women Write About Comics. Read her blog at http://thatbouviergirl.blogspot.com/, follow her on Twitter at http://twitter.com/thatbouviergirl or contribute to her Patreon at https://www.patreon.com/MissyvsEvilDead or her Ko-Fi at ko-fi.com/missmelbouvier
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