The Words in My Hands

The Words in My Hands book

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Book Review

The near future is a troubled place with no fuel and no food. Just keeping the power on and putting a prefab meal on the table is tough going. But being a deaf 16-year-old girl in that harsh reality is even tougher. Welcome to Piper McBride’s world.

Plot Summary

Some older Australians might look at the world as it is now and wonder what happened. How did everything fall apart like this? The government is ineffectual. People are out of work. Food and fuel prices are through the roof. In fact, it’s gotten so bad that people rarely even eat food anymore, it’s all lab-engineered rubbery stuff made to taste the way food used to.

And even that is in short supply.

Of course, to 16-year-old Piper McBride, none of that is anything new. Things have been pretty much like that all her life, especially since her mom is a scientist for the Organicore corporation—and the person behind the good, vitamin-injected, disease-controlling parts of the rubbery goop people are eating.

Piper, however, has bigger problems to worry over.

The fact that she has to lip-read her way through a hearing world is a far more bothersome issue for Piper. I mean, she has hearing aids, but they don’t do much other than make her ears itch and exacerbate her constant headaches. And without them, she is completely deaf.

Piper’s only recourse is to stay as aloof as possible at school and bury herself in her artwork. That doesn’t win her many friends, but at least she doesn’t have to decipher what “Yanno yacacami do arta lish times,” might mean when it comes out of someone’s mumbling mouth.

It’s a fairly lonely existence, but she does have Taylor, her one BFF.

In a blink, however, things go from bad to worse when Taylor gets a boyfriend. And he’s a pretty manipulative dude who wants all her attention. Then, Piper’s mum loses her job. In fact, it looks like Organicore itself might be going under.

Not only does that mean she and Mum have to cut back on electricity and cut down to one pre-fab meal a day, they might even have to move into the “guesthouse” shed in the backyard and rent their house out to make ends meet.

The only ray of sunshine in the whole gray-skies mess happens when Piper meets a guy named Marley after going to get her bike fixed. Not only is this bike mechanic handsome and nice, he happens to be a CODA, or child of a deaf adult. And he introduces Piper to Australian Sign Language.

Piper’s mother had always refused to let her learn sign language because she didn’t want her to look “dumb.” But Piper is captivated and instantly enamored with the intuitive, almost dance-like moves of signing. It’s joyous. It’s emotional. It’s beautiful.

(And Marley’s kinda beautiful, too.)

Maybe all of the recent bad can open the door to some good: For one thing, she’s learning to speak and “hear” clearly … with her hands! She might even get a boyfriend of her own. (A nice one.) And together they might be able to make some things in Piper’s world a little better.

Christian Beliefs

None.

Other Belief Systems

None.

Authority Roles

Piper’s father left when she was a baby (we’re not told why). But her mum, Irene, is hard working and focused on caring for both of them to the best of her ability. Before being fired, Irene was quite important to the Organicore corporate structure—even having ties with the Australian Prime Minister.

All of that goes away, however after Irene is fired without cause. We eventually learn that a great deal of political and corporate greed and corruption is in the mix—things that impact the entire country for the worse.

Irene, however, still works hard to do whatever it takes to care for Piper. (She sacrifices her own meals, for instance, to make sure Piper gets as much as possible.) Irene’s choices—such as her desire to raise Piper as a speaking deaf person who keeps her condition as invisible as possible—aren’t always as helpful as she hopes they’ll be, but she makes them with Piper’s best in mind. She’s protective and loving.

Piper, on the other hand, isn’t as understanding as she could be. She lies at times to escape her mother’s oversight. And she isn’t always wise when making decisions—though she tends to pay for those choices in the end, and they actually help her learn to be a better person.

After meeting Marley, Piper is soon introduced to his mother, Robbie—a kind, gentle and wise woman. Robbie helps Piper see both the joys of using sign language as a Deaf person, but also the rewards of growing vegetables and raising small pens of livestock.

Piper’s world at large looks down on her turn to “wild food,” but through Piper, The Word in My Hands helps readers see the wisdom of it. In fact, Piper’s artwork lays out Robbie’s lessons about creating compost, planting gardens and raising small animals (along with sign language) in easily understandable forms.

Even authority figures such as the Prime Minister eventually come around to the idea that community groups should be given the freedom to create small community gardens that can help feed the hungry.

The Word in My Hands promotes the idea that we as a culture should reduce our “dependance on petrol, oil and electricity.” As Piper begins her local garden, she meets a variety of adults in her neighborhood who gladly volunteer to help with the garden’s labor and protection.

Profanity & Violence

The word “h—” is used several times along with one exclamation of “a–hole.” God’s name is misused once and later someone sighs out “thank God” in relief.

Piper goes to a teen party and makes note of “a table littered with half-finished beers, vodka and cherry gog.” She tries the cherry gog and says it tastes somewhat like cough syrup before putting the drink down. We hear that Mum drinks wine to unwind. Piper thinks that her friend Taylor’s boyfriend might be pushing drugs (though it turns out that he’s into a different criminal activity).

When Piper begins the process of growing and eating “wild food,” she’s very put off by the idea of killing animals for their meat. She refuses, for instance, to even watch Marley kill a fish. Later she helps Robbie slice the throat of a chicken for dinner and things get pretty messy as the chicken jerks free from her grip and splatters blood around. While near starvation, Piper kills a wild possum by slamming its head against a rock and then eats parts of its skinned-and-cooked body.

Piper’s Mum was key in imbuing the lab-created “food” from Organicore, complete with vitamins and medicines that cure “the common cold, cancer and obesity.” However, the company’s rush to market overlooked other physically harming maladies that the food actually causes.

In this future age, people wear cellphone-like “wristlets” to communicate and connect with the internet. Some even have the devices imbedded in their flesh through a painful and scarring process.

Sexual Content

As the story begins, Piper hasn’t yet had any romantic relationships. She watches as her friend, Taylor, dances seductively with her boyfriend. Another couple at the same party kiss passionately and grope each other in public. Piper later learns that Taylor is having sex with her overly possessive boyfriend.

Piper is put off by most of this until meeting Marley—who’s a few years older than her—and finding herself drawn to him for a number of physical and emotional reasons. Eventually they kiss and become physical while stripping off their shirts (“feeling skin against skin”). They make out on a couple occasions, and Piper lies to her mother that she’s staying overnight with a friend when she’s really spending the night with Marley.

The next day, after seeing through her daughter’s lie, Mum gives Piper a pill designed to protect her from “pregnancy and disease.” Piper proclaims that they weren’t sexually active (though she’s lied a number of times before).

We’re told of two same-sex couples. And we meet one pair of women—one of whom kisses her partner’s neck.

Discussion Topics

Do you think we may be moving toward the kind of scarcities The Word in My Hands suggests may be coming? Whether you do or not, what kinds of things do you think we all should be doing to better the world around us? Do you like the idea of cutting back our dependency on some things and producing more of others?

Take a look at Genesis 1:28, Job 12:7-10, Psalm 24:1-2, Exodus 23:10-11 and Colossians 1:16-17. What do all those verses have in common? Do you believe that God created the world around us and gifted that creation to us? What then is our responsibility to it?

In spite of the difficulties Piper faced, she made an effort to help and include others. Do you do that as well? How might you, how should we, better reach out to others?

What did you like best about this book?

Get free discussion question for books at focusonthefamily.com/magazine/thriving-family-book-discussion-questions.

Additional Comments

Author Asphyxia has crafted a very immersive world with her story. And though it presents a somewhat ominous view of a future ravaged by food scarcity, environmental collapse, and political corruption, it does effectively draw readers into the life, perspective, struggles and victories of a Deaf girl. On top of that, the author—who is Deaf and an artist herself—keeps her presentation interesting with a vivid montage of text, paint, collage, and drawings.

All of that said, parents should note that some of the relational elements here may be a bit too sensual for younger readers.

You can request a review of a title you can’t find at [email protected].

Book reviews cover the content, themes and worldviews of fiction books, not necessarily their literary merit, and equip parents to decide whether a book is appropriate for their children. The inclusion of a book’s review does not constitute an endorsement by Focus on the Family.

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