Before I begin my reviews let me tell you one thing I’ve learned lately: A whimsical book cover does not mean it is a whimsical story. Don’t be misled by these two covers. These are meaty books with emotion, depth, trauma, love, redemption, healing, and a myriad of other emotions. Both took me a bit longer to read, partly because there are several characters with whom to get acquainted, most of which are multi-faceted and complex.
THE SIGN FOR HOME, by Blair Fell introduces us to 23 year old Arlo Dilly. Arlo has Usher Type 1, meaning he was born deaf and lost the majority of his sight as he got older, except his sight was nearly gone fairly early. Raised by a tyrannical uncle in an extremely strict Jehovah’s Witness home, Arlo is bright but lonely. His uncle has systematically shut out anything he feels will taint Arlo’s eternal soul, even hiring a JW interpreter who is part informant.
But then, enter Cyril, Arlo’s new interpreter for a community college writing class. Cyril is hearing, gay, and dedicated to the ethics of interpreters. This means the interpreter does not make decisions for the client, he only interprets. Cyril has every intention of keeping his relationship with Arlo professional, but as he gets to know him and sees his potential, he realizes how much of the world Arlo has not been taught, even basic things like choices in the cafeteria. Over time, these two men from extremely different worlds become friends in an adventure I never expected.
Author Blair Fell is an interpreter at Gallaudet University in Washington D.C., widely regarded as the most prestigious university for the Deaf. His writing will make you smile, cry, and get angry as you see how Arlo and others like him are often at the mercy of insensitive, incompetent people who dismiss the vast amount of resources and devices available to the Deaf, Blind, and DeafBlind. This is an emotional, raw story and I am grateful it exists. I learned so much! 9/10 Stars
ADULT ASSEMBLY REQUIRED, by Abbi Waxman is part 2 in her Nina Hill series. I loved The Bookish Life of Nina Hill, but I think I like Adult Assembly Required even better. It’s a bit more serious than its predecessor, but I felt a great connection to main character, Laura Costello, newly arrived in Los Angeles from New York and away from her family for the first time. A Columbia University alumni (daughter of two professors) and soon-to-be grad student at UCLA in physical therapy, Laura, through an early series of mishaps, ends up at Nina Hill’s bookstore needing a place to live. Nina’s extroverted employee, Polly, invites Laura to a large house in Hancock Park owned by 60-ish Maggie, who rents out rooms to young professionals just starting out in life.
Soon Laura is part of an eclectic group–Three guys and three girls in the house, plus Nina and her pub trivia team, who recruit Laura because of her biology/anatomy/sports knowledge. They all take a liking to her, especially horticulturalist housemate “Impossibly Handsome Bob” who, like the book covers above, has a lot more going for him than just his appearance, becoming an invaluable friend.
As Laura finds her niche and her voice, she begins to understand that “assembly” is more than being put back together. “Assembly” also means being part of a group. In this case, a group who supports one another despite their differences.
Abbi Waxman is quickly becoming one of my favorite writers. She does “super intelligent plus witty” characters better than anyone I’ve read, even slightly upstaging my beloved Katherine Center and the irreverent but enjoyable Emily Henry. I savor her writing!