Review: Sign Language – Amy Ackley

Title: Sign Language
Author: Amy Ackley
Publication date: August 18th 2011
Publisher: Viking Juvenile
Format: Ebook
Genre: YA fiction

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Abby North’s first hint that something is wrong with her dad is the scar that appears on his stomach after he goes in for kidney surgery. Soon, the thing she calls “It” has a real name: cancer. Before, her biggest concerns were her annoying brother, the crush unaware of her existence, and her changing feelings for her best friend, Spence. Now, her mother cries in the shower, her father is exhausted, and
nothing is normal anymore.

Sign Language, with its blend of raw hurt and love and humor, explores the changing dynamics that occur in the wake of a family member’s terminal illness as well as the aftermath of loss.

WOW. I knew it would be an emotional story and I knew I would like it but I had absolutely no idea what effect it was going to have on me or how I would feel after reading it. Sign Language is an emotional roller-coaster that renders you speechless within the first hour of reading it. It’s heart-breaking, it’s touching and it’s going to teach you some life lessons along the way. I wasn’t familiar with the author’s work before but I’m very glad I picked this up.

Although Sign Language features a third person narrator, it’s still Abby whose thoughts we hear most of the time. Abby is an average 13 year-old American girl – a little bit of a Goody two-shoes who still depends on her parents, who’s good at most subjects at school but is quite unpopular when it comes to boys of her age. The novel follows Abby’s and her family’s story before her dad is diagnosed with cancer and after his death, when the family slowly but surely starts to fall apart.

Abby wasn’t someone I had an instant connection with and there were times when she was verging on annoying but still, she had many characteristics I could easily relate to. After the loss of his father, she turns from an innocent girl to a rebellious and angry teenager. She’s angry with herself, with her dad for leaving them and she starts to gradually alienate herself from her friends. As her friend Leise sums it up: it’s as if she wants to make sure she’s never going to be happy again – she’s too afraid of losing people she loves that she’s determined not to love anyone again. My favourite character has to be Josh, Abby’s older brother. What I liked about him the most was how the trauma of losing his dad has changed him. For me Abby and him seemed to be like complete opposites. While losing their dad made the innocent and friendly Abby bitter and angry, it made Josh, the rebellious teenager, caring and helpful. It was nice to see how much he cared about his sister, even if he didn’t show any signs of it before.

Apart from the emotional storyline, what I really liked about this story was the message it conveys. It shows us that family is something we take for granted and the fact that people don’t appreciate what they have until it’s all gone. It shows you who your real friends are and who are the ones who will be there for you no matter what you do. Sign Language is a real tear-jerker, a heart-breaking but still very hopeful novel from the Amazon Breakthrough Novel Award winner Amy Ackley. I highly recommend it to everyone – it’s been the best YA novel I’ve read so far. Simply amazing.



  1. April Hays says

    Thanks for this review. I had not heard of this book before at all. Sometimes I just need a book like this to read, so I will be adding it my wish list.

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