Soundless: Book Review

In their silent world they communicate with hand signals...but when people in the community begin to lose their vision as well two will venture down the mountain to find a cure.

Title: Soundless
Author: Richelle Mead
ISBN: 9780143573524

Classification: Fiction
Themes: deafness, adversity, adventure

What's it about?
This is the story of a village on the top of a mountain who work one of three jobs. The lives of the inhabitants are a silent sort being that all are deaf and rely on hand communication. Fei is an artist, and as such is in the higher of the three classes, but she is hiding her sister's secret - she is going blind as well. Worst still is that Fei realises that Zhang Jing, her sister, is not the only one. Li Wei, who has recently lost his father in a mining mishap, decides to descend down the mountain's side to find out what is happening and his childhood friend (and sweetheart) goes to.

This one is written in first person and you get a sense of the world from Fei's perspective. There is a balance between the adventure, mystery and romance contained therein. It has a gorgeous cover...I know that's superficial but...

The first few chapter tell the reader a lot, in a lot of detail. It lacks a pronunciation guide.

My Recommendation...Consider It
I'll be honest, I purchased this book in order to avoid reading any more of one of the books that has been longlisted by CBCA for Book Week 2016 (but more on that one when I actually manage to finish it). This book is not a particularly obvious choice for me. I was familiar with the author's name but actually hadn't read anything she'd previously written...again, if I am honest that's because there seemed to be a flood of vampire-themed books and a lot weren't great and I began avoiding all especially with covers of teenager-ish girls doing pouting or other odd poses on the cover.

So why did I pick it? The title, Soundless, got my attention and the cover art drew me in as I immediately saw an oriental theme to the book. The last page sounded interesting and so did the first (yes, in that order) so I gave it a go.

I'll go with my criticisms of the book first.
  • It seriously needs a pronunciation guide. What I liked about Carole Wilkinsons' Dragonkeeper series is that it has a guide on how to pronounce the names correctly - as a teacher I appreciate this as I hate saying a name wrong. This book needed that for both character and place names.
  • The other thing was the telling at the beginning of the book. I felt I was getting a visual lesson and it didn't come across as a natural description like you would read in Frances Watts' The Peony Lantern.
  •  I also had a lot of trouble picturing the pixiu - despite the elaborate detail - I just couldn't conjure it in my mind. I found the picture to the left on Wikipedia - hopefully it will help you to get your head around the creature (I did note it had a few characteristics in common with the qilin described in Dragonkeeper).

The first thing that really strikes me about this book is that I find myself in a silent world. I take my five senses for granted and this book shows me a different world almost - one without sound. I can appreciate that for someone who is deaf, it must be frustratingly difficult to find a novel to read where there is a character (let alone a book full of characters) that can be related to. The author doesn't make the deafness a 'disability' but rather shows that for this village it is just the way life is. It gets more complicated though when Fei does regain her hearing. However, really this point alone makes the book a good choice for your junior high class to look at perspective and be inclusive any of students in your class who are minus a sense. I will note here though that I am still undecided if the ending of the book, in a small way, undermines that inclusiveness.

The entire story happens over a few days and while most things are tied up by the end there were a few minor lingering questions for me. A lot of my wondering refer to the city that Li Wei and Fei saw at the bottom of the mountain and the people there - some are mentioned and others are not. This book also leaves the future of the village somewhat open-ended in some matters. At least though the author has acknowledged this is a standalone novel - so you can safely fill-in the blanks to suit yourself without a sequel coming out of the woodwork to bite you.

While the books does have Chinese themes to it, it is still a book based in a place that resembles Ancient China rather than is. So you can't use this one as part of a history or cultural study because it just won't do.

I am only marking this one as a Consider It because I'm not sure the underlying (and frequently referred to) passion/love/feelings between Li Wei and Fei would be appreciated by all students. I think that if you were reading this as a class there would be a bit of eye-rolling and commentary.

If however you are looking for a book club book or a recommendation for a teenage girl - then I would say this one might just be a good fit. The vocabulary and style are quite accessible by students - even those with a lower reading level (but again a pronunciation guide would have helped here too!)

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