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.