Thursday, December 11, 2014

Interview with Esty Schachter, author of Waiting for a Sign (November 2014)

Siblings Shelly and Ian (Deaf Character) used to be close but when Ian leaves to attend the Hawthorne School for the Deaf life changes dramatically for both of them. Shelly feels like her brother has traded in their family for his new Deaf friends; Ian finally feels free to pick the friends with whom he wants to hang out. But he comes home angry and lashes out at Shelly and their parents who also seem somewhat befuddled… that is until they all discover that Ian's misplaced anger has a great deal to do with budget cuts and the possible closing of Hawthorne. Ian isn’t taking the news very well.  But that isn't the only reason he's angry.

In his defense, Ian misses his family too. At Hawthorne, he lives in an environment where he has access to all of the conversations-- the jokes, the serious discussion, true family time. Coming home to a family dinner table that includes parents forgetting to sign and talking in front of him is more than frustrating. After all, even Shelly’s best friend Lisa has started learning sign language so that she can chat with Ian.

In one of the conversations between the siblings:

“…I saw you signing ‘bike’ and ‘borrow’ and ‘flat,’ but I had to guess the other words from looking at your mouth.” Ian sighed. “I knew what you were trying to tell me, but it made me mad. It always makes me mad. It happens all the time. You do it; Mon and Dad do it.” Ian ran his hands through his hair. He looked me in the eye. “I want to know what you’re saying. I want to know all of what you tell me”(23-24).

I'm sure many readers will relate with this. And notice the italics! This note to readers (picture below) makes me so happy!
Waiting for a Sign
But back to the story...
Hawthorne has a poetry night which is going to allow the students to shine and show off how beneficial their school experience is. Ian isn’t so nervous about sharing his poem but he’s not so sure that his parents are going to understand him considering there won’t be voice interpreting of the ASL poetry.  Sorry, you're going to have to read the book to find out what happens.

Schachter’s Waiting for a Sign emphasizes the need for clear communication even when we share the same language. This isn’t a preachy book about what it’s like to be a Deaf teen. Schachter includes various story lines that will resonate with many readers; and, she incorporates a great deal of Deaf history spotlighting renowned poets such as Clayton Valli and Patrick Graybill. There is a storyline that makes me think of those library suggested future book reading lists… The ones that read like: So if you like Switched at Birth, you’re going to want to check out this book. (Although it does have less teen drama and angst than ABC Family shows seem to feature… but anyway, you get the picture.) 

This is a complex short novel you'll want to finish in one sitting. Ian and his peers don’t want Hawthorne to close and they’re going to try to save it at all costs! But how will Shelly support her brother? And why didn’t she invite her best friend Lisa to Ian’s performance? You’re going to need to put this on your reading list!  
Waiting for a Sign by Esty Schachter
Paperback: 134 pages
Publisher: Lewis Court Press (November 26, 2014)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0692286985
ISBN-13: 978-0692286982

Check out my interview with author Esty Schachter below.
Author and family at her older son's high school graduation
ES: First off, I’m hearing, and Esty is my full name (a lot of people ask.) I’m a clinical social worker, and live in Ithaca, New York with my husband, Jon, and two sons, Elie and Ari. My first book, Anya’s Echoes, combined the story of how my aunt was saved by strangers during the Holocaust with a present-day bullying situation.

SP: What inspired you to include a deaf character that uses sign language?
ES: My husband often quotes someone in an interview talking about how some songs were written, especially in the 60’s, by people who had ‘something to say.’ When I thought about writing a novel during a year we spent away from home on sabbatical, I decided that my years of connection to the Deaf community had given me ‘something to say.’ I wanted to include multiple deaf characters, and address some of the complex issues I had observed as well as show real people with strengths, flaws, and unfolding self-awareness.

SP: Would you share your connection to deaf individuals or to the Deaf community?
ES: I started trying to learn sign language in elementary school, and continued in high school and then college. My first job out of college was as the secretary for the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf, which at the time only had two full-time employees. That job was a gift in many ways, and enabled me to be mentored by Steve Nover and also have access to amazing social, cultural and educational opportunities in the Deaf community. From there I went on to earn a Masters in Social Work from Boston College, where my training was in working with Deaf and Hard of Hearing individuals and families. When I moved to Ithaca, I was lucky to arrive at the same time a regional preschool program for deaf kids was started through a local agency, and I became their school social worker, following them (literally!) for years.

SP: What research did you do to make your deaf characters believable?
ES: I called upon a number of memories from MSAD times, as well as my connections in the Deaf community all these years.

SP: What do you hope young people learn from this story?
ES: I think it’s a story about finding one’s inner strengths and confidence, and how sometimes our relationships with people close to us help us get there. It’s also about the fact that feelings cause us to behave the way we do, and by looking at and sharing those feelings, people can make positive change.

SP: What advice would you give to young people who are reading your books for the first time?
ES: You too have something to say. Everyone has a story. Finding the way to express and share your ideas and interests can be very satisfying, and fun. It might take time to figure out what your way is, but that’s okay. It’s a worthwhile adventure.

1 comment:

Retromagination said...

A touching story that made me cry no less than 3 times. I wanted to start part II as soon as I was done reading the book, all in one go. I hope this author continues to share her tales, as I have read both of her books and was equally touched by both.