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Reframing Disability through Graphic Novels for Girls

Alternative Bodies in Cece Bell’s El Deafo

Wendy Smith-D’Arezzo and Janine Holc

Keywords: able-bodiedness; children’s literature; critical disability studies; hearing loss

In this analysis of Cece Bell’s El Deafo, a graphic novel for children, we examine the tension between representations of able-bodiedness and disability in Bell’s narrative of a young girl negotiating family and friendships while experiencing hearing loss. Drawing on recent scholarship in disability studies and feminism, we demonstrate that ability is a characteristic that is not static; it circulates among a number of characters and bodies in the novel. Characters who match normatively abled bodies are at times unable to achieve their goals, while Cece, the protagonist, deploys a range of strategies to negotiate her social world, at times to great effect. El Deafo, in this way, neither idealizes disability nor represents it as something to be overcome. Instead, the novel opens up a space for alternative notions of embodiment.

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