My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Will Halpin is your ordinary deaf kid starting all over at a new school: he grudgingly befriends the geekiest kid, and hopelessly falls for the prettiest girl - then moves on to solving the death of the star quarterback.
The book is a slow starter, focusing on Will's reaction to starting at his new school and the new people around him. He has difficulties in a school where no one knows much about deafness - teachers forget to turn their faces toward him so he can lipread, he can't hear the bell announcing the end of class, and no one around him speaks American sign language. Sometimes the teachers and students are even casually cruel or willfully ignorant.
Devon Smiley, the only person who bothers talking to Will, is possibly also the only kid lower on the social ladder. Will takes it all in stride, determined to mainstream after fighting the deaf politics at his old school. There are a lot of serious issues in this book besides the murder - Coaler High is full of ugly secrets.
When the mystery finally kicks in halfway through, Will and his new friend Devon Smiley form a Chet and Frank Hardy amateur sleuth team to track down the truth. It's not much of a mystery, but Will is an appealing character and his voice carries the book.
A few suggestions for further reading:
Young detectives who are not the Hardy Boys:
- Guy Langman, Crime Scene Procrastinator, also by Josh Berk
- The Morgue and Me by John C. Ford - a murder mystery starring a teen who takes a summer job in a morgue
More books with deaf protagonists:
- Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John - Piper is a fantastic character who manages a band called Dumb - even though Piper can't hear their music
- Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick - This book tells its story through words and illustrations as two young people in different follow similar paths into New York City
If you want to learn another language (even knowing only how to fingerspell helped Devon and Will communicate):
- 1,000 Signs of Life: Basic ASL for Everyday Conversation by Gallaudet University Press