Cover Reveal of Ann Clare LeZotte’s Sequel to Show Me a Sign: Set Me Free
I don’t think I’m surprising anyone when I say that one of the great middle grade hits of 2020 has been Ann Clare LeZotte’s Show Me a Sign. If you’ve somehow missed the book, do not worry. Here’s a quick encapsulation of the plot:
“If you are reading this, I suppose you want to know more about the terrible events of last year – which I almost didn’t survive – and the community where I live.” So begins Mary Lambert’s story. Deaf from birth, she lives on Martha’s Vineyard (land “sold” by the Wampanoag who reside there still) in 1805 in the village of Chilmark. In this isolated community many people are deaf. In Mary’s own family her mother and brother, recently deceased, could hear and her father cannot. Mary’s mother still grieves her dead son desperately, but distraction comes in the form of a young scientist that visits the island. Drawn to the mystery of why so many inhabitants are born without hearing, the man is determined to find the cause. Yet there is something deeply wrong with the man’s attitude, and as Mary investigates further she is pulled into a terrible discovery and grotesque new status as a “live specimen” of her people.
Of course, if you read the book, you probably realized that this couldn’t possibly be the whole story. What happens to Mary afterwards? Her island? Her family?
At long last, we have an answer. Today, I am pleased to reveal not just the cover of the sequel to LeZotte’s story, but also an interview with the author herself.
First up, here’s a quick encapsulation of Set Me Free:
Three years after being kidnapped and rendered a “live specimen” in a cruel experiment to determine the cause of her deafness, fourteen year old Mary Lambert is summoned from her home in Martha’s Vineyard to the mainland to teach a younger deaf girl to communicate with sign language. She can’t help but wonder, Can a child of eight with no prior language be taught? Still, weary of domestic life and struggling to write as she used to, Mary pours all her passion into the pursuit of freeing this child from the prison of her isolation. But when she arrives at the manor, Mary discovers that there is much more to the girl’s story — and the circumstances of her confinement — than she ever could have imagined. Freeing her suddenly takes on a much greater meaning — and risk.
Stunning and heartrending, fast-paced and fiercely feminist, this searing exposé of ableism and racism is a spellbinding follow-up to the groundbreaking
Adults and children of all ages, Ms. Ann Clare LeZotte:
Betsy Bird: First and foremost, how are you and your family doing these days?
Ann Clare LeZotte: I’m typing from my comfy bed which has become my desk and all manner of things. Perkins the dog is tucked under the covers—he’s a burrower. If you know someone born with a notable disability (like deafness), they likely have another. Mine is pulmonary. I was hit hard and fast by disease in summer. Went back to work at the library till I could put my affairs in order and retire early. I’m ridiculously fortunate. I still have something I love to do that involves working with and for children! My adult dependent sister lives with me. She’s teaching me all about video games.
BB: So I have to admit I was completely surprised when I heard that there was a sequel to SHOW ME A SIGN on the horizon. Did you always envision that the first book would have a companion? And if it became a series, what would you name it?
ACL: Imagine my surprise! I wrote SHOW ME A SIGN over many years. I like to note that it was an un-agented submission, but Brian Selznick introduced me to our mutual editor, Tracy Mack. We thought it was a standalone and have talked other projects. But I still had Mary’s voice in my head—or hands, however that works for me. Working from home in March, I tutored Deaf kids whose caregivers tracked me down on Facebook! I was immersed in the students’ lives—quarantined behind digital screens and masks, without captions, interpreters and services mandated by IEPs; the only ASL fluent member of their families. It’s no accident that SET ME FREE centers a crucial relationship between an older and younger deaf girl, beautifully conveyed by Julie’s cover art. Once I started writing—it was all done this year—the cumulative impact of expanding Mary’s story into a duology felt nearly overwhelming and completely necessary. If this were to become a series, I like the idea of using or harkening to the title SHOW ME A SIGN. I hope both books stand strong on their own.
BB: Mary is three years older in this sequel. Why the time gap? Does it have any connection to expectations of children at age 11 vs. 14?
ACL: Oh, absolutely! Now there are expectations on Mary to act as a proper young lady. She is stubbornly, comically ill-suited for the role. While traumatized by her kidnapping and captivity in SHOW ME A SIGN and cowed by the knowledge of how the Deaf are treated off-island, the vast horizon beckons to her creative and inquisitive senses. An invitation to help one such as herself only more isolated and hurt is something she can’t refuse. It also serves as a variant way forward from the familiar path expected of a girl of her age.
BB: I know you did loads of research for the first book, but it seems like there’s so much more to explore with the idea of a child in that area born deaf and not taught for eight years. Did you have to do additional research for this book as well?
ACL: I’m a Deaf history buff. I think some of us keep repeating what we know as a kind of litany—because a lot has been lost, we hold on to what we’ve experienced and learned. It’s not so unusual for a child born deaf to come to language late. I was seriously delayed in literacy. At the library, I worked with a deaf girl adopted from overseas at age eight who had no language. Or maybe that’s incorrect. Under-stimulated deaf children become ingenious in creating “voices” that others may not recognize. Artist James Castle is a fascinating example. The young girl in SET ME FREE is full of mystery. Mary keeps perilously trying to unravel her history. I worked with authenticity reader Penny Gamble-Williams again. She’s a Chappaquiddick Wampanoag leader and artist. She tasked me with the biggest research challenge: being more specific about the Afro-Indigenous characters.
BB: What were you the most excited to return to in writing this book?
ACL: To see what the characters are doing three years on. Nancy is living with her uncle in Boston and studying to be a concert pianist. She’s also a dedicated bluestocking! Ezra Brewer is still kicking around. He supports Mary but their relationship has become more antagonistic. And the new characters at the manor where Mary resides as a tutor were fun to meet and develop. There are two I especially like—Ben and Ellie. And the girl. Like Helen Keller—I reread Anne Sullivan’s letters and Gibson’s THE MIRACLE WORKER—she’s far more than a feral child.
BB: Finally, what are you working on next?
ACL: I have oodles of projects in mind! The next book takes place on my native Long Island. The protagonist is deaf in a different way–she’s a non-signing “oral success.” It takes place in the late 1980s. Maybe another Deaf history buff can figure out what major civil rights event affects her thinking about the world.
Thank you for your time and interest!
BB: Thank YOU!
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for . . . the new cover!!
JACKET ILLUSTRATION © 2021 by Julie Morstad
JACKET DESIGN Marijka Kostiw
Ann Clare LeZotte is the author of the highly acclaimed novel Show Me a Sign, which was named a best book of the year by NPR, Kirkus Reviews, School Library Journal, the New York Public Library, the Chicago Public Library and American Indians in Children’s Literature, and was a finalist for the New England Independent Booksellers Association Award and the Jane Addams Children’s Book Award. A passionate advocate for the Deaf and Hard of Hearing, as well as underserved youth from marginalized communities, Ann worked for many years as a youth librarian in Gainesville, Florida. Ann says, “During the pandemic, I’ve kept in touch with Deaf library youth at home with families who don’t sign. The isolation is real—there will be a long-lasting gap. It’s getting harder to tell them all their dreams can come true. But continuing Mary Lambert’s story, the darkness and the light, shows them that they’re still counted in.” In her free time, Ann enjoys yoga and walking her dog Perkins.
Thank you to Ann, for taking the time to answer my questions, and for Elisabeth Ferrari and Scholastic for setting this up.
Set Me Free is on shelves everywhere September 21, 2021.
Filed under: Interviews
About Betsy Bird
Betsy Bird is currently the Collection Development Manager of the Evanston Public Library system and a former Materials Specialist for New York Public Library. She has served on Newbery, written for Horn Book, and has done other lovely little things that she'd love to tell you about but that she's sure you'd find more interesting to hear of in person. Her opinions are her own and do not reflect those of EPL, SLJ, or any of the other acronyms you might be able to name. Follow her on Twitter: @fuseeight.
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