by Richelle Mead
Age: Young Adult
Contains: some violence and bloodshed.
I can’t see why our ancestors thought hearing was such a great thing, why they mourned it’s loss so much. It’s jarring and distracting, making it impossible to focus on anything else.
Soundless takes place in a small Chinese village that sits high atop a mountain. Due to an avalanche centuries ago, the village produces no food or products of its own. The only way they survive is by mining metals and sending them to the bottom of the mountain via a zip line system and receiving food in return. No one has attempted to leave the village in over a hundred years because despite the normal mountain-related dangers, one thing holds the entire population back.
None of them can hear. Which means none of them can hear a rockslide coming down to crush them.
Centuries ago the entire village went deaf. Rumors and legend give possible answers for the deafness, but for Fei and her people they’ve long ago accepted their fate. What’s become harder to accept is the latest development—some of the miners have started going blind.
Less metals mined mean less food from the township below. Fei, her sister, and those lucky enough to have talent like theirs work as artists’ apprentices, observing set positions within the city day by day and painting them into a record so that the town can stay current on what has happened in their village.
Which is great—apprentices are definitely in the upper caste—except that Fei’s sister has started to go blind herself and soon won’t be able to work anymore. She’ll be sent to the mines until her vision goes completely and after that she’s destined to become a beggar. If a one-eyed man in the island of the blind is king, then the deaf and blind in the village of the deaf are surely at the bottom.
Also, there’s a boy. (Of course there’s a boy.) Li Wei is muscled and handsome and Fei’s childhood crush, but he’s also a miner and artists only marry other artists. Which can make things awkward in a town of only about 500 people. Especially when Li Wei decides he’s had enough of this provincial life and he’s heading down the mountain to see about getting the village more food. He could go alone, and would, but he’s cute and Fei doesn’t want him going alone and she’s been keeping a secret for the last week or so that could really help him out….
Fei can hear.
She doesn’t know how or why, but overnight her hearing has returned. Now she feels it’s her obligation to help Li Wei make it down the mountain in one piece and help her village (and her sister) have a better life than one of mere existence.
I liked this story. It had the same isolated-society feel of Ally Condie’s Atlantia, with the historical-fiction aspects of Icefall to introduce you into a possibly unfamiliar culture.
Oh, and of course the strained relationship with the ex-love like you have in Persuasion.
Fei is a strong character without being physically imposing or life-hardened and cold like so many we see. Her strength comes from her willingness to help others, even if it puts her life at risk.
It was also interesting to watch her get hearing back for the first time. Discovering sounds the hearing world takes for granted—everything from the song of a bird to the scratch of a broom across the floor. She reads the records in the town library, but while those in the midst of losing their hearing thought to record some concepts (like what a scream is), they too took many things for granted and didn’t think to record them.
Also, getting her hearing back doesn’t necessarily help her communicate with the hearing world any better. She might sign and read the same words as the rest of her country, but she has no idea how those words are pronounced, let alone how to mimic them herself. Adding a new sense improves her ability to make her journey, but it doesn’t solve all of her problems at once.
Soundless is a short read and a fascinating look into a small snippet of Chinese culture that definitely doesn’t get represented enough in YA. #weneeddiversebooks
So what are some culturally diverse books you would recommend? Historical fiction? Let me know down below!!
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