Future Girl by Asphyxia #OwnVoices

Title: Future Girl
Author/Illustrator: Asphyxia
September 2020
Publisher: Allen & Unwin
Readership: Young Adult
Genre: Fiction
Rating: ★★★★
RRP: $24.99

I received a copy of The Future Girl from the publisher in exchange for a fair and honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.

Future Girl explores what it means to come of age as a Deaf teenager, against the backdrop of a near-future Melbourne on the brink of environmental catastrophe.

Piper’s mum wants her to be ‘normal’, to pass as hearing and get a good job. But when peak oil hits and Melbourne lurches towards environmental catastrophe, Piper has more important things to worry about, such as how to get food.

When she meets Marley, a CODA (child of Deaf adult), a door opens into a new world – where Deafness is something to celebrate rather than hide, and where resilience is created through growing your own food rather than it being delivered on a truck.

As she dives into learning Auslan, sign language that is exquisitely beautiful and expressive, Piper finds herself falling hard for Marley. But Marley, who has grown up in the Deaf community yet is not Deaf, is struggling to find his place in the hearing world. How can they be together?

Future Girl is the art journal of sixteen-year-old Piper, a visual extravaganza of text, paint, collage and drawings, woven into a deeply engaging coming-of-age story set in near-future Melbourne.

When I initially requested Future Girl for review, it was for two reasons: one, it was an ‘art journal’ style book (and as someone who loves a bit of art journaling/crafting I had to see what this looked like in person) and two, it featured an #OwnVoices Deaf representation by an Australia author. I’m always on the look out for books the represent the diversity of people – be that gender, disability, neuro-diversity, cultural, etc – and especially books written by authors who have that first hand experience, so this was a wonderful find and I’m so glad I requested it to read.

Piper is a Deaf teen who’s been raised by her single mother who’s always wanted her to pass as ‘hearing’ or ‘normal’ by others. A sudden oil and food shortage plunges Melbourne, and Australia, into turmoil, and suddenly growing your own food (a niche group act prior to this) becomes a priority and Piper sets out to figure out a way to support herself and her mother. She crosses paths with Marley, a CODA (child of Deaf adult) who not only opens her eyes to the possibility of growing your own produce and being self-sufficient, but also begins to teach her Auslan. As the two spend more time together, a bond forms and both struggle to reconcile their feelings as well as their place within the world.

Future Girl is gripped from start to finish. Set in Melbourne, it was easy for me to picture the locations, but the world itself is a far more bleak place than it currently is. Piper’s mother works for a company that designed food synthetic food products that provide the exact nutrients everyone needs on a subscription basis so many people no longer grow or make their own food – instead they rely on delivered ‘meals.’ Which is where the oil shortage comes in, disrupting the distribution of enough food for people, especially when the company that makes it begins to go under.

Piper is a fascinating lead character – she’s been raised to learn to lip read, to wear her hearing aids and spent a lot of her time growing up with speech therapists so she could pass as ‘hearing.’ She’s grown up with her mother’s fears that Piper will be disadvantaged if anyone realises she’s deaf, and throughout this book, Piper begins to wonder if she can be more than what her mother first thought. As she begins to connect with Marley, and learns Auslan, she also discovers a wider Deaf community she didn’t know about and learns about herself as a person. It’s a coming of age story for Piper and it’s beautifully told. The authenticity comes from author, Asphyxia, also being a member of the Deaf community, and there is a  really fantastic afterword relating to this at the back of the book.

The story is told in Piper’s art journal – art is her creative outlet, and so each page is a work of art, with drawings and collage to create a backdrop, and then, at certain points, specific artwork is there to highlight events occurring within the narrative. Everything plays a part in this book, making it a very unique reading experience when the art and the text become intertwined.

This is a book that combines the idea of belonging to a culture with its own history and language and community with a world on the bring of catastrophe and it does it all with heart.

I strongly urge people to give this a try – it’s well worth it.

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