Have I mentioned that the hero of my new story is deaf? Loyal Raines is a 13-year-old growing up in 1930s Beverly, WV. And he’s deaf. He attends the WV School for the Deaf and uses sign language but I’m betting there wouldn’t have been too many people around back then who knew ASL.

I really enjoyed working sign language into the story. My second grade teacher taught us some–I can still sign the alphabet and every time “Do You Hear What I Hear” comes on during the holidays I want to sign “shepherd boy,” along with it.

Writing the story also made me much more aware of the challenges the deaf community faces. Loyal can read lips, but not everyone’s lips are easy to read. Facial hair gets in the way. People put their hands over their mouths or turn away when speaking. Slowing down and carefully enunciating things can actually make it harder to read lips. Plus, it requires a level of concentration and focus that’s tiring.

So having worked all that into the story, I was beyond delighted when I saw an early review from Kate Campos at Booklist. First of all, she gave the book a starred review (!!). Second, she used the word “brilliantly” which has earned me points around the house. But most of all, she celebrates my deaf hero and the use of sign language in the story.

So, with a nod to September being Deaf Awareness Month, here’s a snippet from the review:

“Thomas returns with an uplifting novel that strikes all the high points of redemptive love and coming of age within an historical murder mystery. Set in West Virginia during the Great Depression, this father-son tale affirms the challenges facing the deaf community. Thomas brilliantly incorporates the use of sign language throughout the novel and infuses sparkling energy in her depiction of her characters’ growing understanding. She writes with compassion and honesty as she appraises the gifts of hearing and of being heard, and offers a fresh look at the nuances and the importance of emotional intelligence.”

As Sheriff Virgil White might say, “That dog will hunt!”