Book Review: “Future Girl” by Asphyxia (#OwnVoices @AllenAndUnwin @EasternRegional)

Future Girl (A&U Children’s, September 2020) by Asphyxia

Winner of the 2021 Readings Young Adult Book Prize, Future Girl is a visual extravaganza of text, paint, collage and drawings. Created by Deaf writer, artist and activist Asphyxia, it is presented as the art journal of Piper, a deaf teenager based in near-future Melbourne.

In Piper’s Australia, real food is vilified and replaced by “recon”, synthetic food that is scientifically packed with nutrients and anti-disease components and distributed by the government as a social welfare solution.

But when peak oil hits, leading to nationwide fuel and food shortages, everyone is starving. Worse, the government uses propaganda and censorship to protect the interests of large corporations that “own” the politicians.

Constantly hungry, Piper starts exploring the possibility of growing her own food. Through her friend Marley and his Deaf mother Robbie, she learns to confront the challenges of creating a beautiful and productive food garden.

Those who have ever observed a homegrown tomato ripening, picked a bean, pulled a carrot or dug out a potato, or tasted lettuce freshly harvested from their own backyard, would appreciate the sense of awe and wonder that Piper feels.

However, it is through the process of learning Auslan in order to communicate with Robbie that Piper gets to fight for her freedom of speech, both figuratively and literally. Indeed, since she was little, Piper’s mother has trained her hard to lipread and be “normal”, to pass as hearing in order to “fit in” and get a good job.

As deafness is not a visible disability, it seldom occurs to those around Piper that she cannot hear anything. She is left to carry the burden of communication alone, desperately trying to figure out what others are saying. For example, how do you respond to “wasgoan”, which is how “what’s going on” looks when formed on the lips?

The book sheds considerable light on our Deaf community, how they communicate to promote access and inclusion. It further touches on the nuanced process of learning Auslan, a three-dimensional language whose grammar and vocabulary is very different from English.

To grasp a new language involves being part of its community and culture, and benefits from a sense of belonging cultivated only through a long process of participation and contribution. By learning to embrace her Dead identity, Piper is finally free to accept that she is different and ask for her needs to be met.

Future Girl is a brilliant example of #OwnVoices writing. The Twitter hashtag, coined by Dutch author Corinne Duyvis in 2015, refers to books about characters from underrepresented and/or marginalised groups in which the author shares the same identity. The writing is inspired by the author’s own experiences and written from their own perspective.

Asphyxia’s advice at the end of the book applies to both disabled and able-bodied people: “Teach your child how to recognise their specific needs and how to adjust their world to suit them. This means believing in our entitlement to access and developing the confidence to ask for it.” Highly recommended.

Note: This book review was originally published under the title “Finding your voice in the sound of silence” by Ranges Trader Star Mail, March 15, 2022, P13.

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