I finished Invincible Summer
a few days ago but have been sort of at a loss to explain how I feel about it while still remaining fair to the novel itself.
This book is a look at several summers in the life of two families who come to the beach every summer for a month or so at a time. It's told in a hazy, lazy sort of summery way from the point of view of one of the boys in a chaotic family. Everyone is slightly pretentious and quotes Camus a lot.
As a little bit of backstory, I was diagnosed with a mild sensorineural hearing loss when I was four years old. By now, at 25, it has progressed to a severe loss in one ear and a profound loss in the other. My path was quite different from the path taken by the family in this story in regards to their small deaf son; I attended a standard public school, can speak English without an accent, know a few signs, and most importantly, was never left out of my family.
I had a strange sort of emotional reaction to the way Gideon was treated in this book. He's basically like the family's trained monkey that knows a few signs but isn't really there, isn't an individual, except when it's needed to show growth from the other characters. Gideon's parents are not involved at all except to argue about who deserves tuition more, Gideon for a Deaf school or his flighty brother for college. They don't even take him to the random speech therapist they find on the beach - they make his brothers do it.
Putting it simply, the way this family acted about their deaf sibling/child was completely foreign to me. It felt completely unrealistic. If Gideon were truly born profoundly deaf, he would have received intervention services at the hospital after he failed his newborn test(s). His parents would have made the decision about ASL/cochlear implants years ago and wouldn't need a speech therapist to outline their options. Given how messed up his family is, it's possible they would have just not wanted to deal with it, but I couldn't really believe the way they actually did choose to handle it. After all, how was Gideon taught the rest of the year? Surely his teachers would want/force some input on his growth on the family, and surely he'd at least have an IEP set up or the equivalent... right?
Most of the time everyone seemed to basically ignore Gideon except when he was needed for emotional growth - especially at the end. Can you imagine this story told from his point of view? Isn't it scary? Being trapped with a group of people who don't speak your language and move their mouths in funny ways. He becomes their sacrifice.
Gideon is saved a little bit by the sympathy of his brother Chase, and they have some truly uniquely loving scenes together. I enjoyed their interactions a lot.
(For a very moving look at how deaf people growing up in hearing families with no language can feel, check out Hands of My Father: A Hearing Boy, His Deaf Parents, and the Language of Love, the true story of a boy who grows up interpreting for his deaf parents. They each tell their son the story of their childhood over the course of the book, and it is fascinating.)
I'm writing a lot about how unrealistic people's reactions to Gideon were, but most of it is just coming out of the hollow pit I feel in my stomach of how I would have felt if I were him, and it kind of freaks me out.
The story does get props from me for handling sex without shying away from it. It's slightly creepy sex as Caris points out in his review
, but it's handled directly and without condescension to the characters.