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Whisper - Chrissie Keighery ”I’m always trying to figure out what’s really going on. Always having to fill in the gaps, but never getting all the details. It’s like trying to do a jigsaw when I don’t even know what the picture is, and I’m missing one of the vital middle pieces.” On my morning commute to work, the first thing I usually do is put my earphones in. I choose to block out the tram rumble and the overly loud mobile phone conversations and the high school gossip with music. I don’t think I fully realised until reading this book how much I took this simple act for granted. In the opening scene of Whisper, sixteen year old Demi gets on a tram to go to her new school. She thinks about her iPod, and how she used to scroll through it for the perfect song for a particular moment. And she thinks about how she gave it away, because eighteen months ago, she became profoundly deaf. Whisper is full of small, quiet, powerful moments like this – where Chrissie Keighery plunges us into Demi’s silent world, confronting us with the daily realities of being deaf, showing us life through Demi’s eyes. There were times when mentally sharing in Demi’s experiences made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, panic clawing up my chest, closing my throat. There is a particular scene where Demi attends a party and her friends turn off the lights, forgetting that she needs to be able see to lip read, that made me cry. Imagining the loss of one of the senses I use every minute to put the world around me in context was an emotional experience. Because I realised how much I hadn’t thought about it before. How much I didn’t know about the deaf community. How much I couldn’t even begin the fathom what it would feel like to be in Demi’s situation, having the way I absorb world alter, and needing to learn to understand it all over again. At the risk of getting all sentimental in this review haha, what’s new?, I can’t overstate how beautiful and touching I found this book. It’s a simple story but it’s rich with insight. The writing is pared back but emotional. Demi has a distinctly teenage voice - she’s intelligent, but confused, angry and lost. Keighery writes Demi’s struggle to navigate and reconcile the hearing and deaf worlds with incredible empathy and respect. The messaging in Whisper around audism is not precisely subtle, and Keighery presents the issues faced by the deaf community, particularly locally, in a very up front manner. However, I didn’t feel like this was the distasteful insertion of an author’s agenda that I’ve occasionally come across in novels. To me, this is about awareness, clear and simple. About portraying Demi’s situation accurately, and communicating the different experiences of deaf teens and their families, including discrimination. Beneath the important subject matter, however, this is also a story about friendship and family. About courage and fear, and the anxieties that simply go along with being a teenager. It’s not gritty, or shocking – but its honest, and funny, and moving. The motto of the Victorian College for the Deaf (Demi’s school – Hi, Melbourne!) is taken from a Goethe quote: "the highest cannot be spoken, it must be enacted." I can’t help but think that this is also a perfect sentiment to accompany this story, about taking action, having a voice, and finding hope.