Twelve-year-old Abby North's first hint that something is really wrong with her dad is how long it's taking him to recover from what she thought was routine surgery. Soon, the thing she calls "It" has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence, the boy across the street. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and nothing is normal anymore. Amy Ackley's impressive debut is wrenching, heartbreaking, and utterly true.
I've been very curious to read this book for awhile now, since it's the first Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award for YA. And I come out of this book with mixed feelings...because it's such a powerful story at heart. And there were many great moments. I just felt that the writing itself and the development of the minor characters could've been stronger.
The plot itself was touching and heartbreaking. Abby's father has terminal cancer, and Abby and her brother are ignorant to it until almost the very end. They knew he was sick, but they couldn't face the reality that he would die. So to watch it all from a twelve/thirteen year old's perspective was so hard. There were such emotional moments in this book, parts where I did tear up. My favorite line is when Abby is talking to her friend, and she says "I knew my dad was going to pass away. I didn't know he was going to be dead.
Abby herself was extremely well developed, and it was hard sometimes watched her go through all the stages of grief. The book spans over a good three year period, from when Abby is 12 to 15. In that way, we get to see Abby in the midst of growing up, while dealing with everything. I really felt for the girl, and can't even imagine going through what she went through.
But the writing itself tended to cloud this emotional story at times, at least in my opinion. Not necessarily the writing... it wasn't bad per se, I was just expecting more emotional punches, I guess. It was more so the structure. Because the book spanned over such a long period of time, I felt like parts were rushed. And the beginning was too slow. I wish the story was more about surviving this tragedy, rather than spending the first third of the book watching her father die. And it was written in third limited, when I feel like I would've gotten more if it was written in first. It struck me as odd how it was written from third person, in Abby's perspective, that the narration kept switching off when referring to her parents. Sometimes it was Mom and Dad, other times it was Mr. and Mrs. North. I don't think Abby would ever call her parents Mr. and Mrs. North.
And while Abby was wonderfully developed herself, other character's were lacking. Leise, her best friend, never really had a true purpose. She kept popping in whenever necessary. I wanted more depth concerning her relationship with her brother. And then Spence. I wanted to love Spence. I really did. And I did like him and Abby together, and how he was always there for her. I just wanted more out of his character.
Sign Language is a book that while their were issues, overall I'm still glad I read it. It's emotionally charged with a great main character, even if the pacing and minor character's were lacking.