Warning: If you’re looking for a spoiler-free review for “Read My Lips” by Teri Brown, don’t read this one. If you don’t mind spoilers, go ahead!
I’m back with another book review, and this time I’m reviewing “Read My Lips” by Teri Brown! Here’s a summary so we know what it’s about:
“Serena just wants to fly under the radar at her new school. But Serena is deaf, and she can read lips really well-even across the busy cafeteria. So when the popular girls discover her talent, there’s no turning back.
From skater chick to cookie-cutter prep, Serena’s identity has done a 180…almost. She still wants to date Miller, the school rebel, and she’s not ready to trade her hoodies for pink tees just yet. But she is rising through the ranks in the school’s most exclusive clique.
With each new secret she uncovers, Serena feels pressure to find out more. Reading lips has always been her greatest talent, but now Serena just feels like a gigantic snoop…”
Please note: The following two paragraphs I make on the research that went into the Deaf culture and lipreading in particular for this book will not be taken into account for this review’s rating, simply because I don’t think I can speak to how accurate that as is as a hearing person. For those who know more on this subject, please feel free to let me know in the comments if any of the things I discuss in these next two paragraphs are actually accurate.
This is probably the third book I’ve read where a deaf protagonist is featured (the first two being “You’re Welcome, Universe” by Whitney Gardner and “Tone Deaf” by Olivia Rivers). In this book, our protagonist Serena is deaf and does not use any sign language, as she communicates orally. I also found it interesting to read things from her perspective including the following: one of the teachers trying to get Serena a signing interpreter with the assumption that she knew sign language simply because she was deaf and not taking into account that she can speak, the description of facial hair barring one from lipreading as well as compared to an unshaven face, etc.
It’s also noted that Serena uses hearing aids as well so she can hear some things, but she primarily understands people through lipreading and doing that very well. This aspect of her deaf identity becomes a major plot point in the book, as noted in the book’s summary. Serena also notes late in the book that her lipreading ability is about eighty-five percent accurate. As a hearing person, I can’t speak to anything regarding the accuracy of her experiences with her hearing aids, lipreading, and other experiences, but the lipreading thing seemed a bit suspicious to me given that according to what I read here, lipreading is apparently only thirty-to-forty-five percent accurate at best. I’ve also heard from others that lipreading is also a skill that can be developed over time to be more accurate. For those reading this review that are more knowledgeable on this subject than I am, please let me know if what Serena is able to do regarding lipreading is actually accurate. I am interested in learning more about this.
Now, onto the actual rest of the review that I will rate and take into account for rating the book:
Character development: 2.5 out of 5
Use of the tasks as shock value of humiliation to show how much joining the cool group isn’t worth it: 3 out of 5
As for character development in terms of personality, I felt myself sympathizing with Serena wanting to be one of the popular girls. I understood that she felt like she needed a place to fit in with the others at school, but I also didn’t think she should have went as far as letting herself act as a ‘beggar’ just to be part of the cool group, nor should that task have ever happened. The underwear-related task they made her do was something I could more realistically see her doing, but the acting-like-a-beggar task made me think they took it way too far for shock value. However, despite the overuse of the tasks as shock value to show how badly the popular peers didn’t really care for helping Serena boost her popularity in the sorority, Serena did eventually learn and understand that maybe it’s not always the best thing to be popular.
As for other independent characters such as Miller, for example, I didn’t really feel much of a connection with him and what made him special, other than acting as the nice, kind foil to the popular girls that Serena tried fitting in with. All of the characters could honestly use more development and depth, Serena included, but her development is not as bad as literally everyone else in this book.
Romance development: 2 out of 5
Regarding the romance in this book, I felt that the chemistry between Miller and Serena was ultimately rushed and could use a lot more build-up of said romantic chemistry. I found it hard to see what Serena and Miller found interesting about each other, other than happening to bump into each other often enough during the events of the book and the two being nice to each other. They call each other out for various flaws (such as whether Serena cares more about popularity than friendship and romance, while Miller’s constant avoiding her at times gets on Serena’s nerves), and they both owned up to those issues and did their best to work on said issues, but I didn’t feel a lot of chemistry between them romantically. Had it been just friendship, I think it would be just fine and I would have given this a higher rating.
Plot development: 3.5 out of 5
I do think that the plot dragged out a bit in the middle, though the first third of the book was good at setting up exposition for the situation Serena had. I did feel that there was too much reliance on well-known literary tropes such as the “different kid trying to fit in with the cool kids” and “nice guy tries to let the protagonist know that she doesn’t need to be popular to be happy” to carry the plot without deviating too much from them to make the plot unique, but it was overall executed well. I just think that the plot could have been spent more on Serena and Miller’s developing romance better as opposed to the overuse of tasks as shock value to help Serena learn that she didn’t need to be popular to be happy.