When it comes to representation in literature, deafness is very rare. So I decided to go on a quest to find as many fiction books as possible portraying deaf characters, and rank these representations from best to worst.
Note: This post will be updated as I read more books with deaf characters. This means the list is not static. Every book can easily be bumped up or down by a better representation. Make sure to subscribe for updates!
Those of you who follow the Modcast already know that I, Leigh Ann, am deaf. Always have been and always will be! I am currently working towards a Master’s in Deaf Studies at Gallaudet University, where my thesis is analyzing representations of deafness in Marvel comics. (Yes, I will be ranking some of these comics in this list as well.) Eventually I’m going to establish my own publishing company that prioritizes and amplifies #OwnVoice authors.
Before I get into my ranking, I want to make a few things clear:
- I only rank stories I have read in full.
- I am not ranking these stories based on plot or themes, but on the representation of deafness.
- Just because a title ranks low on the list doesn’t necessarily mean the representation is bad; it may just be that the deaf character is in the background, so there’s not much to judge. In other words, how much “screentime” does the deaf character get? That’s why short stories generally rank lower.
- If you are interested in reading any of these stories, please be aware that some of them may include triggering content such as violent acts (bullying, murder, etc.) and/or discrimination against marginalized-identity characters, which are very real concerns for many of us. If you have any concerns about a novel’s content, please check the title on StoryGraph for content warnings, or feel free to comment your questions and I’ll get back to you as soon as I can.
I personally do not like the majority of the books on this list. You can find my rants and reviews on Goodreads, since I’m linking each title to its Goodreads page. But my goal is to get past personality of characters and plots to get at the representation itself: How well does the author reflect physiological and social realities of deafness? What message about the deafness are they trying to get across, if any?
This list includes deaf characters no matter how brief their appearance or small their role in the story. If a deaf character explicitly appears–meaning that the author makes sure the reader knows this character is deaf–I’ll include the story in the rank.
In these works of fiction there will be deaf characters who sign and those who don’t; those who lipread and those who don’t; those who use assistive hearing technology and those who don’t. There are also characters who identify as culturally Deaf, and others who may use identities such as deaf, hearing impaired, hard of hearing, and deaf-mute (this last term is in older/historical and non-American novels). These are all valid identities, and the author/characters’ identity preferences do not affect how I rank the book.
The key here is authenticity. For deaf-identifying authors, that’s simple enough. They write what they know. But for hearing authors, I am also judging their acknowledgment (or lack thereof) of deaf sensitivity readers or advisers. Did they do their research? Some hearing authors make it more obvious than others whether they incorporate feedback.
Now, without further ado, let’s get into the ranking.
1. Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte (2020)
Written by a Deaf librarian, this middle grade historical fiction is set on Martha’s Vineyard. It was once a thriving deaf community, thanks to genetics. The white colonists inhabiting this island developed their own language, much of which merged later with French Sign Language to become what is today known as American Sign Language (ASL). Historically, people like Alexander Graham Bell believed that the deafness on Martha’s Vineyard was caused by something in the soil or water (which somehow didn’t affect everyone, regardless of race, age, or gender). Scientists ran experiments on the land and its deaf inhabitants, which is also what happens in this novel: an entitled young man shows up to “discover” the cause of the prevalent deafness—and kidnaps the narrator, a young deaf girl. This is a great slice of history that shows disability is a social construct.
2. Deeplight by Frances Hardinge (2019)
This dark fantasy YA story is written by a hearing author, but the deaf representation is so well-done that if I hadn’t checked, I might have believed Hardinge were deaf. This is because Hardinge had tons of help from the Young People’s Advisory Board of the National Deaf Children’s Society. In Deeplight, all kinds of deaf people appear—though all, to my knowledge, are late-deafened. (This means that they grew up hearing, and became deaf later.) In this book, there are signing deaf (with each island having its own dialect), and non-signing deaf who communicate in writing. Some lipread, like Selphin. None are really main characters, although Selphin has a large and important role, but they are very visible and highly respected throughout the story. In short, this book normalizes and even celebrates deafness.
3. Boo! by Dack Virnig (2018)
Written by a Deaf author, this picture book is an allegory for the deaf child’s experience of being born into a hearing family who doesn’t accept them or know what to do with them. It’s an all too common experience, and one I share: 90% of deaf children are born to hearing families, many of whom never learn to communicate effectively with their child. Boo! represents the experience very poignantly and simply.
Note: Unfortunately this book seems to be out of print, but you can find Dack’s announcement about it here. If you’d like a copy, I highly recommend reaching out to him about it.
4. The Silence Between Us by Alison Gervais (2019)
This book is for a YA audience, and written by a Hard of Hearing author, who represents the experiences of a deaf girl in mainstream (hearing) school. Through her character Maya, Gervais very realistically shows how deaf people might navigate a hearing environment and react to barriers and discrimination in and out of school. The emotions and reactions throughout the novel are very authentic. I will say that Gervais’ choice to gloss reduces the ASL to broken English, which is highly unfortunate. I’m fluent in English and ASL, and I found the gloss difficult to understand because it is divorced from the context of its grammar. From the reviews by hearing people it seems most readers do not have a problem with it, but I worry how non-signing readers are forming understandings of ASL based on this glossed dialog.
Note: This novel also includes a boy with Cystic Fibrosis (CF), but this character fails to pass the dog replacement test. You can replace Connor with a dog, and it does not impact the story in a meaningful way. Essentially, Connor is included as a plot device, and the narrative surrounding him is very inspiration porn-heavy.
5. Song for a Whale by Lynne Kelly (2019)
Written by an ASL interpreter, this middle grade novel centers Iris, a deaf girl who is moved to a mainstream (hearing) school where she is linguistically and socially isolated. The interesting part of this novel is that Iris comes from a deaf family: her grandparents are deaf. In science class, Iris learns about a lonely whale and determines that she will play him a song he can hear. Accompanied by her grandmother, she sets out on her mission. I’ve written a book recommendation for this already, which you can read here.
6. Deafening by Frances Itani (2003)
This book, a historical fiction written by the descendent of a Deaf woman, is extensively researched. The author even learned ASL to write it. Grania, the deaf protagonist, is well-written as far as representation goes, and she is rooted in history. I had to take off some points because there are some things that challenge my suspension of disbelief, and the story is divided between Grania and a hearing man. If you’re interested in my talking points on this representation, check out my Goodreads review.
What I really appreciate about this middle grade book is the candidness of the hearing author, who is a grandchild of Deaf adults. It’s a real rarity that I read a book with a deaf character and don’t find anything to criticize. Gino approached this story very carefully and respectfully. Although they chose to center a white hearing girl, the Black Deaf character, Derek, is very realistic. The other deaf character, Emma, is an infant and doesn’t really do much—so, like a baby, yeah?—but we do get a time skip epilog that shows a toddler Emma being very communicative and innovative!
This hearing author writes a YA romance that casts Oliver, deaf since ten years old, in the role of the love interest. Oliver can’t lipread to save his life, which is highly refreshing given the number of deaf characters who can read everything they see. Callender also chooses to describe signs rather than translate or gloss them, but it was a little difficult to follow at times. Overall, an accurate and respectful representation.
Marvel comics are in the running! Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) is canonically deaf since 1983, though you wouldn’t know it from the way writers keep erasing that part of his identity. This particular run ranks so highly because of Fraction and Aja’s innovative use of ASL and speech bubbles in their comics. It’s a brilliant way to give the reader a taste of Hawkeye’s experience as a deaf person because there are no translations. We know only what he knows. Fraction and Aja both seem to be hearing, and they don’t acknowledge any sensitivity readers or advisers, so I’m genuinely curious as to how they pulled this off.
Note: This issue also includes Clint’s brother, Barney, who is injured in the same fight as Clint. Barney uses a wheelchair, and the issue goes on to highlight inaccessible and hostile architecture. The disability representations in this comic are particularly nuanced and great for analysis, which is what several academics have already undertaken.
10. The Mermaid’s Three Wisdoms by Jane Yolen (1978)
Here’s a fairy tale by a hearing author. She acknowledges several deaf persons for their help in representing Jess. In this story we have two protagonists: Jess, a deaf girl, and Melusina, a mermaid. Mermaids have no speech apparatus, having evolved with no need of it, so they developed a signed language. Jess, who is understandably angry at the world and rejects all languages (spoken and signed) because she doesn’t have full access, rescues Melusina when she is banished from her home. Yolen does well in showing the cultural differences in the two signed languages and how the girls try to navigate towards a common understanding. Jess and Melusina begin to learn one another’s language. At the end of the story, we have a very explicit Deaf Gain message: If Jess hadn’t been deaf, she wouldn’t have learned sign language, and therefore would have been unable to communicate with Melusina. It doesn’t hold up logically (in that hearing people can also sign), but the representation is fairly accurate throughout, and given the year of its publication, very positive.
11. Waiting for a Sign by Etsy Schachter (2014)
This is a literary fiction book by a hearing author who worked for three years as a secretary at the Massachusetts State Association of the Deaf. She thanks quite a lot of readers for their help, but it’s not clear whether they are deaf. The narrator is a hearing girl, a sibling of a deaf adult (SODA), with a hearing savior complex. This book is a little odd and disjointed because the author wanted to write two stories at the same time, but as far the deaf representation goes, I feel a little…meh. The deaf representation is through a hearing girl’s perspective, so although she intellectually understands some of the issues, she doesn’t understand them emotionally. In fact, none of the issues surrounding the treatment of deaf characters in this novel are ever resolved, or even critically examined. I have to link my Goodreads review to explain my problems with it. The representation isn’t necessarily bad; it just feels icky often because it’s colored by a hearing writer’s ignorance.
Note: I have to say that I do not recommend this book to deaf readers who are sensitive to non-accommodating hearing family dynamics. In that Ian, the deaf character, is treated like trash. It was triggering for me personally, and it pains me to place this so high on the ranking.
12. You’re Welcome, Universe by Whitney Gardner (2017)
Another YA novel, this one by a hearing author who mentions several deaf sensitivity readers—and yet the book has quite a few inaccuracies. (Principals of deaf schools actually aren’t required to sign fluently, and I can’t name a single deaf person who feels the shitty caption devices at cinemas are a superpower. Yikes.) Despite the mistakes in representation, the reason this ranks higher than some is because it has a lot more representation. There are several deaf characters, including the protagonist, her friend, and her two mothers. For the most part, the representation is authentic, but it would have been nice if these characters were more fleshed out.
This historical romance by a hearing author does pretty well with representing a late-deafened man who lives a semi-reclusive life. He doesn’t belong in the hearing world because of discrimination, but also feels he doesn’t belong in the deaf community because he’s late-deafened (which is admittedly odd, since late-deafness wasn’t uncommon back then, but I guess Shupe didn’t want to write in a bunch of other deaf characters). Shupe also acknowledges the help of a CODA and ASL interpreter in writing Oliver. There is some clear confusion about the differences between French Sign Language and American Sign Language, for which I had to deduct points. For specifics, check out my Goodreads review.
14. SIX by M. M. Vaughan (2015)
This middle grade sci-fi mystery novel by a hearing author portrays Emma, a deaf 10 year old with a bent toward social justice. Emma was born with a damaged auditory nerve, so she’s never heard a sound. The communication in this novel really points to the linguistic repertoire of this character. Emma signs (ASL and BSL), lipreads, reads and writes English, and projects her thoughts telepathically. Although this is definitely one of the better representations I’ve seen, it’s not perfect! Check out my Goodreads review for details.
15. Invincible Summer by Hannah Moskowitz (2011)
Here’s a YA literary fiction. This hearing author hopes to make the Deaf communities of Washington, D.C. and Providence, R.I. proud with this representation of a six-year-old deaf boy named Gideon, but I admit it definitely triggered me. You could probably tell from my ranting Goodreads review. The novel is from the perspective of a SODA, who doesn’t seem to realize or care about Gideon’s needs or wants, which unfortunately is very common. As far as the deaf representation goes, this is pretty accurate: a deaf child literally just existing in a family that does not want to communicate.
16. 27 Hours by Tristina Wright (2017)
This hearing author writes a pretty accurate Deaf character in this YA novel about colonizers “discovering” the indigenous are intelligent and cultured. Nyx has rechargeable hearing aids, gets sensory fatigue when straining to hear even with her hearing aids, and she signs with her abuela, who is also Deaf (they use a mix of ASL and home signs). There are a few problems with the representation, such as her love interest Dahlia being a poor signer at the beginning of the novel and within a few hours becoming an expert interpreter.
Note: I would feel remiss if I didn’t inform potential readers of the serious problems with this novel. Aimal’s review touches on important themes, such as racism and colonialism, and discusses them in-depth without any major spoilers. Please consider reading it before picking up the book.
17. Iron Man: Sounds Effects by Marc Sumerak (2014)
You can read this comic online for free here. Okay, so the hearing author of this Marvel comic issue had a lot of help from the Children’s Hearing Institute. In Sound Effects, we have two deaf superheroes: Dr. Pedro Perez (aka Blue Ear), and Samantha Farrell (aka Sapheara). My biggest issue is that both of them actually seem to hear better than hearing people. It’s not that their superpowers make them hear better. It’s the hearing aid and cochlear implant technology, specifically–which is factually incorrect. I take issue with other things, so if you’re at all interested in seeing a critique through a Deaf Studies lens, check out my project here.
18. “The Youngest Miss Piper” by Bret Harte (c. 1903)
A short story by a hearing author, which I personally enjoyed! You can read it by clicking the title above. The narrator starts off by trying to explain to the reader why not many people like Miss Delaware Piper, and dismisses many potential reasons, including a “slight deafness.” She advocates for herself: She alludes to her “deaf ear,” and tells people to speak louder or come closer. The only person she can understand with no problem is Thomas Sparrell, a man with a disabled leg, which essentially causes a sensation when it comes out that they are lovers. Del speaks a bit differently from other characters too—what comes across as a Southern dialect can easily be construed as a “deaf accent.”
19. “A Kind of Murder” by Hugh Pentecost (1962)
A sad short story by a hearing author, which you can read by clicking the title above. This representation is pretty well-written. The deaf character, Mr. Warren, has “pleasant but flat voice,” and is painfully unable to discipline his students. The boys immediately discern he’s deaf, and decide to make Mr. Warren’s life hell, ultimately costing him his job.
20. Talk Under Water by Kathryn Lomer (2015)
A YA instalove story by a hearing author who cites multiple resources and deaf advisers, and yet can’t write a fleshed-out or dynamic deaf character. Although the physiological and social realities are fairly accurate, Summer (a teen deaf girl) is stagnant and boring. She exists so that the hearing character, Will, can learn and grow into a hearing savior figure. For a detailed discussion, see my Goodreads review.
21. “Mumu” by Ivan S. Turgenev (1884)
A hearing man wrote this short story, which you can read free by clicking the above title. There are a few discrepancies, but the descriptions in this story are mostly ambiguous enough that we can read this as an accurate representation. Gerasim is a very tall deaf man, taken from his rural village to work as a serf in the city for an old lady. The other servants communicate with him through “signs.” (Signs probably means gestures rather than signed language, but it’s not very clear.) They make repeated references to Gerasim as a devil/beast/creature, wild man of the woods, and monster of the steppes. Overall, it’s an okay representation, but the message comes across to me as deaf people can’t have companionship.
22. Little & Lion by Brandy Colbert (2017)
Written by a hearing author, this YA novel features a very diverse cast of characters–BIPOC, LGBTQIA+, disabled, etc. Emil Choi is not a main character, though he is a love interest to the narrator. He has Ménière’s disease, which makes him late-deafened, and he identifies as hard of hearing. He unabashedly wears hearing aids, and has been wearing them since a few months before the start of the novel. All of this is fantastic! Except the author seems to be confused about how hearing aids are worn and used. For specifics, check out my Goodreads review discussing them.
23. Speechless by Adam P. Schmitt (2018)
This bildungsroman book, written by a hearing author with no mention of sensitivity readers, this is an okay representation of a deaf character, Sofia (who’s 9 years old during the “present” of the storyline). She’s not featured much, but the author makes sure we are aware of her deafness whenever she shows up. I’ve noticed that Schmitt has an unfortunate tendency to infantilize Sofia. For specifics, check out my Goodreads review.
24. Butterflies in November by Auður Ava Ólafsdóttir (2004), translated by Brian FitzGibbon (2013)
This is a literary fiction about a young, unlucky woman who wins the lottery and goes on a road trip. And she gets roped into taking her friend’s deaf son along for the ride. If Ólafsdóttir mentioned any deaf advisers or sensitivity readers, it wasn’t included in my translation. I also must admit that I don’t know anything about deaf culture in Iceland, so I can’t say anything about that. I will say this: the child in the novel, Tumi, wears hearing aids (which never seem to run out of batteries), signs, and speaks. He’s not really an involved character, and actually, he’s a plot device to bring the protagonist and her love interest together in the end. He doesn’t appear much, despite being with the protagonist for the majority of the novel, and he also doesn’t do much or say much. I’m not sure that Tumi passes the dog replacement test, either.
25. Hawkeye Vol. 1, no. 4 by Mark Gruenwald (1983)
Yep, another Marvel comic book. It’s the O.G. Hawkeye, y’all. The representation of his deafness is not bad. It’s low on the list because he becomes deaf in the last few pages of the final issue, so there’s not much there to begin with. Essentially, Hawkeye sacrifices his hearing by sonic arrowhead to save himself and his crush, Mockingbird. So deafness is a sort of necessary tragedy here, but it’s definitely painted in a noble light. One thing Gruenwald did well was the portrayal of the psychology of late-deafened adults, who often struggle with perceptions of themselves as well as fear how others might perceive them. In short, they don’t want pity or discrimination. And that’s exactly how Hawkeye behaves, pushing Mockingbird away. Of course, it’s a happy ending because Mockingbird doesn’t take crap from any man, and she proceeds to take care of him by getting him some hearing aids and all that good jazz, like a good little wifey–because they do end up getting married. (In later comics, Mockingbird handles the communications for Hawkeye, until writers conveniently forgot Hawkeye is deaf, wrote him as hearing, and kicked Mockingbird out of popular storylines. And I’m so angry about that.)
I won’t say you need to be a Star Trek fan (aka a Trekkie) to enjoy this story, but I am willing to be corrected by anyone who has never seen the show and proceeds to not understand or enjoy the book. Anyway, Galanter worked at Gallaudet University for five years, so he does have an understanding of deaf culture and signing. This story is about a telepathic race who call themselves Isitri. They have evolved with no speech apparatus, but they can use signs to communicate with non-telepaths. Some Isitri are born deaf, but it is a non-issue for a telepathic people, of course. The Isitri have a wrist device that translates their signs, which unfortunately smacks of those horrible signing gloves, but fit right in with the Star Trek universe. I did like that the universal translator needed time to figure out grammar, so we first see the signed grammar—almost like a gloss—and then over time it is translated into Standard [English]. Only one character in the novel is explicitly deaf (Meshu), and she is obviously unable to lipread or communicate effectively with non-telepaths. It’s not badly done; there’s just not much representation to rate here.
Here we have a YA thriller. Stine, a hearing author, writes a deaf teen named Niki. Unfortunately, her nickname is “Funny Face,” and it’s all the worse because we have no context or explanation for this. I can’t help but think a sensitivity reader would have been able to point this out to him. The representation itself is a bit muddy—Stine claims Niki is “nearly deaf,” but she seems to be totally deaf. For specifics, check out my Goodreads review.
28. M.F.K.: Book One by Nilah Magruder (2017)
This middle grade fantasy graphic novel features a protagonist with an assistive listening device. The extent of her deafness is unclear, but I do speculate on it in my Goodreads review. Overall, there’s not much depth to this representation by a hearing creator.
Note: Chapter 4 is up on the MFK website, but it seems the comic is on hiatus or discontinued.
29. Dragonswood (Wilde Island Chronicles #2) by Janet Lee Carey (2013)
Written by a presumably hearing author who doesn’t mention any sensitivity readers, this fantasy YA novel features a half-deaf narrator named Tess. Her left ear, puckered like a cauliflower, is profoundly deaf from multiple beatings. And yet she still seems to hear better than hearing people, and the author makes this deaf ear hear magical fey voices—inexplicably, considering hearing people are just able to straight up hear these voices in their totally functional ears. For details, see my Goodreads review. But overall, Tess’s deafness is rarely referenced, and she behaves as a hearing person throughout the novel.
Note: This book also features Tanya, a burn survivor, who uses an illusion spell to hide the scars and appear unblemished. She’s mortified when her “secret” scars are revealed by a mirror. Unfortunately, Tanya hides away, and we don’t see her again.
30. “Deaf and Blind” by Lara Vapnyar (2017)
Click the title above to read this short fiction for free on The New Yorker. This hearing author writes the story of a young girl meeting a deafblind man named Sasha for the first time. It’s not a bad representation, but it is fairly brief and somewhat superficial, and we don’t get a lot of information aside from Sasha’s backstory. The narrator’s grandparents, particularly her grandfather, make a big deal out of Sasha’s deafblindness. They have questions like, “How can you be both deaf and blind?” and “Is he neat with the toilet?” When Olga and Sasha come to dinner, the narrator even turns down a skiing trip with her absent father for the novelty of meeting a deafblind man. I have a couple of questions myself: 1) How did Olga learn tactile sign? And 2) In the end, Sasha and Olga marry. When Olga dies young, Sasha remarries within a year to another woman who left her husband for him. What is the message here? That women fall heads over heels for him because it’s certain a deafblind man loves you for you, rather than for your looks/voice?
31. Beyond Paradise by Elizabeth Doyle (2003)
A historical romance novel with a strong female lead and pirates? And one of those pirates is deaf? Bring it! This novel, written by a hearing author without sensitivity readers, was great! Until it wasn’t. Jacques is an excellent (spot-on, actually) representation of a hard of hearing character. He’s multilingual, can lipread in the right lighting and if the speaker is facing him, and rejects pity, among other things. But the author inexplicably decided to make a dramatic reveal that he’s not hard of hearing, but (gasp!) completely deaf since birth, and no mention of any kind of oral education or speech therapy. Now it doesn’t make sense he can lipread one-hundred percent of three spoken languages, and have complete control over his voice’s volume, tone, and pronunciation. For everything wrong with this novel’s representation, see my Goodreads rant. If you read this book, I recommend just ignoring the reveal. Continuing to read him as hard of hearing more or less worked for me.
32. Soundless by Richelle Mead (2015)
Written by a hearing author with no sign of deaf sensitivity readers, this fantasy YA’s representation is pretty messy. Although there are several accurate instances (such as deaf people being surprised about what things make noises, and attempts to communicate with non-signers), the overall message I got from reading this is that deaf people cannot fight for or save themselves, and literally need a hearing savior to bring divine intervention. I also have tons of questions that really highlight and challenge the author’s ableism, such as her assumption that deafblind people are completely helpless and without communication. To see these questions and more issues I point out, check out my Goodreads review.
Note: The white author is writing exclusively Asian characters. Since I know nothing about it, I will defer to the Asian community’s judgement of the novel. Many people comment on the “Chinese inspiration” in the one-star reviews.
You can read this short horror by clicking on the title above. These authors create the debonair author Richard Blake, who has been deaf, blind, mute, and paraplegic for six years, having been injured in World War I. But the thing is, they never actually present him (living) to the reader. He’s living in a haunted house with his manservant/caretaker/interpreter, who goes mad and leaves him there! When Dobbs doesn’t come at his summons, Blake assumes his bell is broken and pounds on the table instead. Then he starts to get worried and begins to write on his typewriter to distract himself. He ends up recording the sensations he experiences: vibrations, smells, someone’s presence—and about this “hellish thing [that] had defied those shattered senses of sight and sound and penetrated so disastrously to the delicate intelligence that brooded in external darkness and silence.” In short, the beings are able to make him hear and see them before they kill them.
34. Generation X (2017) #3 by Christina Strain (2017)
This hearing writer gives us a comic book issue featuring a deafblind character named Face. To me, this is the best representation of Face out there. She suggests independence: Face is found unconscious and alone in Central Park—how did he get there? He must have been taking a walk when he was attacked. This demonstrates the reality that deafblind people do in fact have lives. His classmates bring him back to the school infirmary and discuss reading his memory. Quentin says, “He’s blind, deaf, and mute. I’d get as much out of his pitch-black mindscape as I get talking to you. Nothing.” (Boom, roasted.) They assume here that Face is unable to record memories in an accessible format. When Face wakes up, Strain also demonstrates that he is able to communicate effectively by tapping Morse Code, and can understand it being tapped back on his hand. It would have been nice, though, if they had interacted with him more instead of getting the information from him and leaving him alone.
Fun Fact: Thomas Alva Edison (you may know him as the “inventor” of the lightbulb) was deaf, and one of his friends, Miller Hutchinson, would often tap Morse Code on Edison’s knee to help him follow along during meetings. (Source: Edmund Morris’ 2019 biography Edison.)
Hemingway is a hearing author writing this short story, but the deaf character is not the focus. Rather, the focus is on the attitudes of two men. An old deaf man, about 80 years old, is drinking alone as the waiters gossip and complain about him. The waiter who serves him insults him as he pours his brandy: “You should have killed yourself last week.” The old man doesn’t hear him, of course, and thanks him for the service. When the old man asks for another brandy, the waiter goes to him: “Finished,” he said, speaking with that omission of syntax stupid people employ when talking to drunken people or foreigners. “No more tonight. Close now.” The old man pays and leaves, and the waiters get back to talking and closing up. You can read this by clicking on the title above.
36. T4 by Ann Clare LeZotte (2008)
This is a historical fiction in free verse, narrated by a deaf child in Nazi Germany. The author is Deaf, and the book is really a brief compilation of facts and outlines of characters, a sort of introduction to the T4 program. Essentially, the Nazis genocided and sterilized thousands of disabled adults and children, including deaf people. This book was an attempt to discuss how the narrator avoided that fate, but unfortunately the representation is muddy.
These comic book writers don’t do too bad with this representation of a deafblind character. Face (real name unknown) has the power to explode objects with his mind. Unfortunately, before he learned to control it, he accidentally blew off the front of his own head. Since then, he is completely isolated because no one bothers to communicate with him. His “team” literally puts him on a leash and uses him for his powers, directing him on where to aim the explosions by tapping Morse Code on his head until the New Mutants rescue him. A telepath named Karma is able to communicate with him directly. For the most part, Face just sits around looking pretty.
38. Sidekicked by John David Anderson (2013)
A hearing author really did this deaf character dirty. Eric Ito, deaf since birth, seems to have super speed and is an expert in martial arts, though it’s unclear what exactly he does. His real power, however, should be lipreading. This deaf boy is attending a mainstream school, apparently with no interpreter despite the fact that he only signs, and is literally not included in his team’s conversations (though the author tries to play it off like he’s included). The author also doesn’t even try to make the signing realistic. For more details on why this representation is so poorly done, check out my Goodreads review. It’s also worth noting that Eric rarely appears in the story.
39. The Silence by Tim Lebbon (2016)
I really struggled with whether this was better or worse than Barbarian’s Touch. The only thing that saved this author was that he didn’t make his deaf character out to be helpless. Anyway, Lebbon has clearly never even seen a signing deaf person in his life, and he makes no mention of sensitivity readers. There’s honestly a lot to unpack, so see my Goodreads rant for everything wrong with this novel’s representation of a deaf character.
This is an adult fiction (erotica) book by a hearing author who clearly did zero research about deafness and cochlear implants, despite the main character being a deaf woman with cochlear implants. It’s so bad that I’m not going to even bother saying anything here. If you want to know everything wrong with Dixon’s portrayal, see my Goodreads review. (Forest has let me know that Lila does, in fact, have her hearing cured in a med lab later because she wants to hear her baby’s laugh.)
41. “Gargoyle” by Edwina Stanton Babcock (1922)
Written by a hearing author, this short story features a boy called “Gargoyle” (his actual name is John), whom I assume may have Goldenhar Syndrome, just from the description of his “grotesque face and figure.” I’m confused about whether John is deaf, and having read this three times I still haven’t figured it out. At one point, the doctor takes John away with him to discuss his condition and the possibility of schooling with another doctor. The doctor sends an update saying John can now speak, although he doesn’t know any words. So it’s clear he’s receiving oral training. An unknown amount of time passes, and the doctor brings John home. He cautions everyone against references to his “former condition.” John now speaks perfectly, and there is no mention of him lipreading, though he responds when spoken to, and he’s noted to be “listening” later on. John and Mrs. Strang have a conversation, and John asks her to confirm whether everyone thought he was “deaf and dumb” until he was twelve years old. Mrs. Strang admits that they knew he did not speak, but they were never sure that he could not hear—a bit strange, since it would be obvious if he could hear by whether he responded to auditory stimuli. John casually wishes he had not been educated because it made him forget what he knew before. You can read this by clicking the title above. (If you figure out whether or not he’s deaf, let me know!)
42. “The Shaman Painting” by Tong-ni Kim (1974), translated by John Holstein (2009)
This short literary piece, written by a hearing man, recounts how a shaman is so determined to restore her daughter’s hearing that she essentially drowns herself. The daughter has apparently been deaf and non-vocal for years, and is wasting away. Very brief appearance, not a lot of information about her, and she seems to miraculously recover. You can read this online by clicking the above title.
43. Daredevil (1964) #285 – 289 by Ann Nocenti (1990)
I’m not saying this is the worst representation of a deaf character I’ve ever seen. I’m just saying that in this comic series, the hearing writer devotes a single line referencing Nyla Skin’s deafness: “I’m pretty deaf myself. You know—too much rock’n’roll.” The entire five issues in which Nyla appears do not allude to her deafness in any way, shape, or form.
#0: “The Christmas Present” by Richmal Crompton (1922)
I definitely feel cheated after reading this short humorous story. It doesn’t have any deaf characters at all! The Crewe’s hereditary deafness is faked. Starting with Mary’s great-grandmother, the women in this family mysteriously become deaf in middle age, much to their husbands’ frustration. But they’re pretending to be deaf to get some peace and quiet. (Relatable, but come on.) Honestly, I saw it coming since it’s not subtle at all, but it was still disappointing. I’m including it here, not as an actual part of the ranking, because I’ve seen it saved to lists of stories with deaf characters, and want to make it abundantly clear that there are in fact zero deaf characters in this story! You can read this for free by clicking the title above.
Upcoming Books to be Ranked (alphabetized by title)
Titles ending with an asterisk (*) are the ones I’m most looking forward to, personally! Which book(s) are you most excited to see ranked? Let me know and I’ll prioritize it.
Did I miss any fiction books or short stories with a deaf character? Drop the title in a comment below so I can add it to my list! (Yes, I also look at comics/manga, graphic novels, webtoons, and novelizations of films.)
- 87th Precinct #12, 22, 27, 38, 45, 54 by Ed McBain
- AAQPP: Deafness for Dummies by Helium
- The Acupuncture Murders by Dwight Steward
- Alice by Sara Flanigan
- Altered Land by Jules Hardy
- Ancestors by Chenjerai Hove
- Ancestral Truths by Sara Maitland
- “And Sarah Laughed” by Joanne Greenberg
- Apple Is My Sign by Mary Riskind
- Archer’s Voice by Mia Sheridan
- The Architect of Song by A.G. Howard
- At Face Value by Emily Franklin
- Balancing Act by Virginia M. Scott
- Belonging by Virginia M. Scott
- Bird-eyes by Madelyn Arnold *
- The Boatman’s Daughter by Andy Davidson
- The Bookseller’s Advice by Sue Breitner
- Brain Storm by Richard Dooling
- Can You Feel It? by Pauline Findlay
- Cane River by Lalita Tademy *
- The Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer
- Case of the Los Angeles Chameleon: Featuring Comrade Dolgov of the KGB by Bud Long
- The Center of Things by Jenny McPhee
- Charlie and Frog (#1 and #2) by Karen Krane
- “Charm” by Vivien Bretherton
- Cheshire Moon by Nancy Butts
- Cole’s Redemption (Alpha Pack #5) by J.D. Tyler
- Colonial Prime (Katieran Prime #7) by K.D. Jones
- Conclusive Evidence by Al Macy
- The Cretan by Elisabeth Ayrton
- A Criminal Appeal by D.R. Schanker
- Crocodile Meatloaf by Nancy Simpson Levene
- Crossed Wires by John E. Simpson
- The Crystal Clipper by B. Roman
- The Dark Days of Hamburger Halpin by Josh Berk
- Dark Pines by Will Dean
- Dark Space (anthology), edited by Leonie Skye
- Dark Thirst by Sara Reinke
- The Day is Ours by Hilda Lewis
- The Deaf-Mute Boy by Joseph Geraci
- Deaf, Dumb, and Blonde (Baron #26) by Anthony Morton (John Creasey)
- Deaf Child Crossing series by Marlee Matlin
- Deaf Culture Fairy Tales by Roz Rosen
- The Deaf Musicians by Pete Seeger and Paul DuBois Jacobs
- Deaf Republic by Ilya Kaminsky *
- Deaf Sentence by David Lodge
- The Deaf Swordsman series by R. Janvier del Valle *
- Deaf Wish by Geoff Cook
- Death Signs by H. Edward Hunsburger
- Digital Fortress by Dan Brown
- Dire Wolves: Silence by Lena Austin
- The Discreet Gentleman series by Kris Tualla
- Earth and Ashes by Atiq Rahimi
- Eva Trout; Or, Changing Scenes by Elizabeth Bowen
- Fear Into Darkness: A Trustice Jeffries Novel by Taylor Dye
- Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson
- The Fifth Vertex by Kevin Hoffman
- Finding Abby by Virginia M. Scott
- Fire Opal by Pamela Hill
- First Man by Albert Camus
- Five Flavors of Dumb by Antony John
- The Flying Fingers Club by Jean F. Andrews
- Flying to the Light by Elyse Salpeter
- Follow the Music by L. C. Ireland *
- For Whom the Bell Tolls by Ernest Hemingway
- Fragile by Jandra Sutton
- Freak City by Kathrin Schrockle
- The Ghost Rebellion (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #5) by Pip Ballantine
- The Gift by Patrick O’Leary
- The Gift of the Girl Who Couldn’t Hear by Susan Richards Shreve
- Go to the Hill by Stevie Platt
- Goodbye Tchaikovsky by Michael Thal
- “Grayfish” by Pete Fromm
- The Guardian’s Code by T.S. Valmond
- A Handful of Spells by Kimberley A. Shaw *
- Hannah Trevor Trilogy by Margaret Lawrence
- Harriet Versus the Galaxy by Samantha Baines
- Havana Heat by Darryl Brock
- Hear No Evil series by Kate Chester
- A Hearing Heart by Bonnie Dee
- The Heart Is a Lonely Hunter by Carson McCullers
- Heart of the Woods: A Story of Life Among the Habitants in the Laurentian Foot-Hills by Isabel Adams
- Heart Sounds by Michele Johns
- Hello, Universe by Erin Entrada Kelly
- Heritage of Shannara (The Talismans of Shannara #4) by Terry Brooks
- ひだまりが聴こえる (I Hear the Sunspot) series by Yuki Fumino
- Hollow Earth by John and Carol E. Barrowman
- Hot Laps by Steve Eubanks
- The House at the End of Ladybug Lane by Elise Primavera
- The Hunchback of Notre Dame by Victor Hugo
- Hurt Go Happy by Ginny Rorby
- I Believe You by Jeanne Grunert
- Impossible Music by Sean Williams
- In the Name of Silence by Arthur Luhn
- In This Sign: The Highly Acclaimed Novel of a Family Whose Love and Courage Enable Them to Survive in the Silent World of the Deaf by Joanne Greenberg
- “In Space, No One Can Hear” by Michael A. Burstein
- InSight by Polly Iyer
- Interrupt by Toni Dwiggins
- Invisible by Cecily Anne Paterson
- An Irish Christmas Feast by John B. Keane
- Island of Silence by Carolyn Brimley Norris
- Islay: A Novel by Douglas Bullard
- Jonnie Alone by Elizabeth Webster
- Keeping Silent by Carla Damron
- 聲の形 (A Silent Voice) series by Yoshitoki Ōima
- Last Kiss Goodnight by Gena Showalter
- The Legend of Five Great Deaf Ghost Stories by James Gillies Casey
- The Listening Eye (Miss Silver #28) by Patricia Wentworth
- The Listening Silence by Marie Joseph
- The Loser’s Guide to Life and Love by Ann Edwards Cannon
- Loving April by Melvin Burgess
- Magnus Chase and the Gods of Asgard series by Rick Riordan
- A Maiden’s Grave by Jeffery Deaver
- The Man with the Magic Eardrums by Harry Stephen Keeler
- The Mansion by William Faulkner
- Max and the Millions by Ross Montgomery
- Maybe Someday by Colleen Hoover
- Men With Their Hands by Raymond Luczak
- Miracle Girl by Keith Scribner
- Moon Craving (Children of the Moon #2) by Lucy Monroe
- Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker and Wendy Xu *
- “Moonglow” by Catherine Asaro (in Charmed Destinies anthology)
- Morality Play by Barry Unsworth
- A Mortal Bane by Roberta Gellis
- Murder on Lexington Avenue (Gaslight Mystery #12) by Victoria Thompson
- My Haunting Love by J.S. Wilsoncroft
- Never Seduce a Scot by Maya Banks
- Nick’s Mission by Claire H. Blatchford
- Night Angel (Night #2.5) by Lisa Kessler
- Not a Sound by Heather Gudenkauf
- Of Sound Mind by Jean Ferris
- Of Such Small Differences by Joanne Greenberg
- On the Ropes series by Aly Martinez
- The Orange Houses by Paul Griffin
- Ordeal by Silence: A Story of Medieval Times by Prudence Andrews
- Other Nature by Stephanie A. Smith
- Our John Willie by Catherine Cookson
- Painter of Silence by Georgina Harding
- Parrot’s Theorum by Dennis Guedj
- Passion Hunter by Ira Cochin
- The Persistence of Vision by John Varley
- Piper by Jay Asher and Jessica Freeburg
- Portal Through the Pond by David K. Anderson
- Portraits of Forgiveness by E. Patrick Hull
- Precious Things by Gail R. Delaney
- The Quality of Silence by Rosamund Lupton
- Queer Person by Ralph Hubbard
- A Quiet Kind of Thunder by Sara Barnard
- The Raging Quiet by Sherryl Jordan
- The Raven Cycle series by Maggie Stiefvater
- Read My Lips by Teri Brown
- Read My Lips by Jana Novotny Hunter
- Reasonable Doubt by Steven Barish
- The Reckless Kind by Carly Heath
- Resident Evil: Retribution by John Shirley
- Resurrection Bay by Emma Viskic
- Ricki by Lou Honderich
- Risk by Dannika Dark
- Road Girl by Hester Parsons Battad
- Rolling in the Deep by Mira Grant *
- Ruby Lu, Empress of Everything by Lenore Look
- Rules for Vanishing by Kate Alice Marshall
- The Rules of Silence by Kristen Johnson Ingram
- The Sand Bird by Margaret J. Baker
- Saudade by Katherine Vaz
- “Sea Change” by Alan Brennert
- Senses and Sensations series by Susan Laine
- Set Me Free by Ann Clare LeZotte *
- The Sharp Teeth of Love by Doris Betts
- Shrine by James Herbert
- Signs of Attraction by Laura Brown
- Signs of Murder (Anna Southwood Mysteries #3) by Jean Bedford
- Signs Unseen, Sounds Unheard by Carolyn B. Norris
- Silence by Deborah Lytton
- Silence is Deadly by Lloyd Biggle
- Silent Dances (Starbridge #2) and Silent Songs (Starbridge #5) by A.C. Crispin and Kathleen O’Malley
- Silent Duchess by Dacia Maraini
- Silent Fear by Lance & James Morcan
- A Silent Fury (High Stakes #2) by Lynette Eason
- Silent Lotus by Jeanne M. Lee
- The Silent War by Victor Pemberton
- Silent Witness by Susan Yankowitz
- Silent World (Broken World #7) by Kate L. Mary
- The Silent World of Nicholas Quinn (Inspector Morse #3) by Colin Dexter
- The Silent Zone by Forrest L. Erickson and Debra A. Peterson
- Singing Hands by Delia Ray
- A Single Light by Maia Wojciechowska
- Sins of Summer (Wyoming Frontier #3) by Dorothy Garlock
- The Smart Princess, and Other Deaf Tales by Keelin Carey
- Smelly Hearing Aids and Fishy Lips: A Deaf Teenager’s Journal by Marc Heyez
- Smith Valley by StarAndrea
- Someone Else’s Ocean by Kate Stewart
- The Somers Treatment by Gillian Bradshaw
- Song of Summer by Laura Lee Anderson
- Soul Catcher by Colin Kersey
- The Sound of Your Voice by David Sullivan
- Sounds of Silence by Phillip Tomasso III
- Spark (Elemental #2) by Brigid Kemmerer
- The Spider’s Web (Sister Fidelma #5) by Peter Tremayne
- A Spoonful of Sugar (Bachelor Bake-Off #2) by Kate Hardy *
- The Stand by Stephen King
- Starfall by Jessie Kwak
- Stolen Shadows by Mary King
- The Story of Beautiful Girl by Rachel Simon
- The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski
- The Story of Esther Costello by Nicholas Monsarrat
- Strawberries in the Sea by Elisabeth Ogilvie
- Strong Deaf by Lynn McElfresh
- The Stuntman’s Daughter and Other Stories by Alice Blanchard
- Sublime Karma by Peyton Garver
- A Sudden Silence by Eve Bunting
- The Sylver Chronicles by Paul Kercal
- The Tailor’s Daughter by Janice Graham
- The Tale of Despereaux by Kate DiCamillo
- Tales of the Borderlands series by Meg Burden
- Talk Talk by T. Coraghessan Boyle
- Talk to Me by Pat Simmons
- Tall, Tatted, and Tempting by Tammy Falkner
- Tarantella by Sol Yurick
- The Tea Dragon Festival by Kay O’Neill *
- The Telling by Eden Winters
- There Will Be Lies by Nick Lake
- The Tiger’s Woman by Celeste De Blasis
- Tone Deaf by Olivia Rivers
- A Trick I Learned from Dead Men by Kitty Aldridge
- Tripping the Tale Fantastic: Weird Fiction by Deaf and Hard of Hearing Writers (anthology), edited by Christopher Jon Heuer *
- TURBO Racers: Trailblazer by Austin Aslan
- Turn On the Light So I Can Hear by Teri Kanefield
- Typhon’s Children by Toni Anzetti
- The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl: Squirrel Meets World by Dean and Shannon Hale *
- The Unfinished by Jay B. Laws
- The UnSpeakable by Charles Laird Calia
- The Visitors by Rebecca Mascull
- Weave a Circle Round by Kari Maaren
- Whisper by Chrissie Keighery
- The White Darkness by Geraldine McCaughrean
- Winter Wind by J.R. Rain
- Wolf Signs by Vivian Arend
- Won’t Someone Help Anna? (Sweet Valley Twins #69) by Francine Pascal
- Wonderstruck by Brian Selznick
- World of Silence by Don Coldsmith
Seems like a long list, right? Surprise! It’s not. Considering the vast size of the publishing industry, this isn’t even a drop in the sea. (And could there be any more titles using words like “silent”?!)
Don’t forget to subscribe for updates!