True Biz by Sara Novic–ATLP Book Review


The Stats

  • 381 pages
  • Released in 2022
  • Multiple POV
  • Coming of Age Story
  • Contemporary Fiction
  • Deaf protagonists
  • Deaf Culture
  • Deaf School

“She wondered what would become of these buildings, vessels that had carried her people through so much.”

Sara Novic, True Biz (343)


In True Biz, several protagonists face the challenges of the hearing world when their school, River Valley School for the Deaf, is faced with closure due to a lack of funding. February is hearing, but she has lived among Deaf people her whole life. As the headmistress of the school, she’s committed to finding and answer to River Valley’s closure and where her students will go, but it might just cost her her marriage. Charlie grew up in a hearing world trapped by her Cochlear Implant, but when her dad finally gains primary custody of her, she’ll start at River Valley’s high school and encounter the ability to communicate for the first time in her life. Austin has come from a long lineage of Deaf family members, but when his younger sister is born hearing, he starts to wonder what it would have been like to have the easier path.

True Biz is the accumulation of stories from February, Charlie, Austin, and other minor characters as they face Deaf challenges in a hearing world and work together to keep their school open for future students. This story celebrates Deaf culture, Sign Language, and a universal celebration of human connection.


Rating: 3.5 out of 5.

I picked up True Biz on a whim while at the library off of a display about Disability Pride Month. If you’ve been following my blog for a little while, you might know that this year, I set a goal to read more books with diverse protagonists. True Biz was a perfect choice to add to this goal, as it really does a wonderful job teaching about Deaf culture and sharing the challenges that the protagonists face as Deaf individuals.

As someone with a disability, I’m all too familiar with how the able-bodied world treats those that are “different,” and it’s not good–we are often ignored, looked down upon, or berated and bullied. True Biz highlights the River Valley School for the Deaf, where students have a chance to feel normal by immersing themselves in Deaf culture. For kids that haven’t been surrounded by a support system that understands their Deafness, I can only imagine the relief that the school provides.

Yet, when the school is threatened with closure (and only the protagonists know what is going to happen), the characters all react in different ways. While I enjoyed February’s addition to the story, her perspective wasn’t my favorite–I rather enjoyed hearing from Charlie and Austin more, as they navigated through learning, and then understanding, that their home and community will be gone forever. I felt that while February’s point of view is important to understand as someone who is hearing living in a Deaf world, immersed in Deaf culture, I often found myself frustrated by some of the unnecessary drama that seems to surround her. She often made choices that I wouldn’t have personally made, and I feel that that contributed to her problems, even if it did make her a more realistic character.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this book is Charlie’s upbringing. Charlie’s Deafness is not well accepted by her mother. Early on in the story, we learn that Charlie’s mother has not made any attempt at teaching herself (or Charlie) Sign Language, and she doesn’t seem to take much of an interest in any aspect of Deaf culture–she would prefer to pretend that Charlie’s Deafness doesn’t exist by pressuring Charlie into relying on a Cochlear Implant. While Cochlear Implants can be helpful, they don’t seem to assist Charlie–instead she is constantly struggling with the device, and her limited communication. Until she settles in at River Valley, she’s unable to make friends, communicate with teachers, or even have semi-normal grades, as she can’t hear what the teachers are saying. She has been alienated from most of the world, because of her mother, yet she isn’t any closer to her mother because of it.

Another really interesting aspect of True Biz are the inserts that Novav leaves for the hearing folks to learn more about Deaf culture. In between many of the chapters, we have diagrams for learning sign language, different ASL exercises, history lessons, and educational information. While this isn’t something that I would normally like added to a book (see my recent review of The Power and the illustrations in that book), I actually really enjoyed how much this background information added to Novic’s story. These educational blurbs were really helpful to learning about Deaf Culture from someone who is immersed into it and familiar with it.

Something I wanted to note about this book was the dialogue. Early on, we are introduced to the strange dialogue formatting. Novic writes with the dialogue in right or left columns, and often italicized instead of with quotation marks. I understand that this was created this way to signify that speaking doesn’t necessarily need to be vocal to be considered language, which is a powerful device. However, there are some aspects of the book where hearing people are verbally speaking, or even when Deaf people say something orally, where I would have liked some kind of distinction from Sign Language. As a reader, I often had to go back and read these portions to try and figure out who was speaking when and that was a little bit difficult, even if it was intentionally placed in this way for a specific reason.

One thing I didn’t necessarily enjoy about this book, however, was the title. While the meaning of True Biz is explained throughout the book, I’m not sure it was the right choice for the title for this one. I often found myself forgetting about the True Biz aspect of the story and focusing on other important events that were central to the plotline. Though, because I’m not immersed in Deaf culture, the way that Novic is, I wouldn’t be able to say for sure whether the book really embodies the True Biz phrase or not.


Overall, there were a lot of things about True Biz that I thoroughly enjoyed. I think that it’s a great representative model of Deaf culture and the difficulties that hearing people need to be reading about. That being said, I think that it took a while for me to immerse myself in this story because it starts off with February’s perspective (I would have preferred more of Charlie or Austin’s perspective early on). I also found that this wasn’t as fast paced of a read as some other books that I’ve enjoyed lately, though the storyline does pick up about halfway through the novel.

All of that being said, there’s a reason that Sara Novic’s True Biz is one of Reese’s Book Club picks of 2022. This book truly immerses the reader in Deaf culture and gives hearing people the opportunity to understand something that we normally wouldn’t be privy to. It’s also very important for the book community to see more disabilities through a protagonist’s eyes so that those of us who have disabilities have books that we can connect with, as well. Because, truth be told, while I enjoy reading stories with able-bodied protagonists, I never really relate and connect with them the same way that I do with characters that have disability-related challenges.

If you haven’t read True Biz yet, you can pick it up on Amazon here. The hardcover version is currently on sale for only $15!

If you’ve already read the book, I’d love to know your thoughts in the comments below. Who was your favorite character?

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