‘True Biz,’ an adventure yarn with deaf teenagers, is the Free Library’s ‘One Book’ selection

An adventure yarn with deaf teenagers, “True Biz” was a bestseller in 2022.

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Sara Novic speaks at an event

Signing through an interpreter, author Sara Novic is "more than thrilled" that her novel "True Biz" was selected for One Book One Philadelphia by the Free Library. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

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“True Biz” by Sara Nović is the 2024 selection for the Free Library of Philadelphia’s annual citywide reading program, One Book, One Philadelphia.

The 2022 novel that appeared on the New York Times Bestseller list is an adventure yarn about kids who run away from a fictional school for the deaf.

The author, who is deaf and has lived most of her life in the Philadelphia area, said she is “more than thrilled” to have her novel selected for One Book.

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“I’m so happy that these days, we are seeing progress and diverse media, that my deaf son can grow up in a world where there are deaf characters in books and deaf people on TV with whom he can identify,” Nović signed through an interpreter.

Sara Novic speaks at an event
Signing through an interpreter, author Sara Novic is “more than thrilled” that her novel “True Biz” was selected for One Book One Philadelphia by the Free Library. (Peter Crimmins/WHYY)

“But representation matters not only for us,” she said. “Constantly being centered and assuming one’s language and experience is universally limiting, too. It stifles the mind and the capacity for empathy. But books can change that.”

“True Biz” is written largely from the perspective of a 15-year-old girl named Charlie who was born deaf, but her parents attempted to “fix” her deafness by having a cochlear implant surgically installed in her ear. Not only does the technology prove to be faulty, but Charlie was raised with the assumption that she is a hearing child. She never learned American Sign Language.

The book starts with the trio of students, each with their own relationship to deaf culture, breaking out from the school, leaving teachers and administrators in a panic.

“It really moves. It’s got adventure to it,” said Free Library’s manager of civic engagement and programs, Terance Washington. “It’s a book that really balances having a message with having a great story.”

The Free Library will distribute about 1,000 copies to local schools and keep its own stock of several hundred for checkout. Washington said a handful of area teachers are including “True Biz” in their instructional curriculum this spring.

The Free Library is beginning to plan a series of events and programs around the themes in the book, including an exploration of local anarchy — anarchists appear in the story — and events focused on local dialects of sign language, including Black A.S.L. and a uniquely Philly accent “heard” through specific hand gestures.

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“There’s a Philly A.S.L.,” Washington said. “I’ve mentioned that to people they said, ‘Oh, it’s like jawn and bul?’ It’s not that. It’s a dialect of A.S.L., like where people hold their hands. It’s really delicate.”

Nović, who lives in Montgomery County, will be part of the library’s programming, including being part of an onstage interview with the head of the Pennsylvania School of the Deaf, Melissa S. Draganac-Hawk, and an event with Ilya Kaminsky, author of “Deaf Republic: Poems” (2019).

“I hope that people can have a better understanding about deaf culture, about our language, and the beauty of deaf schools,” she said. “I’m really excited about the future with people opening their minds to our culture.”

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