An Indies Introduce Q&A with Anna Sortino

Printer-friendly versionPrinter-friendly version

Anna Sortino is the author of Give Me a Sign, a Summer/Fall 2023 Indies Introduce Kids’ selection.

Sortino is a young adult author who writes stories about disabled characters living their lives and falling in love. She's Deaf and passionate about diverse representation in media. Born and raised in the Chicagoland area, Anna has since lived in different cities from coast to coast, spending her free time exploring nature with her dog or reading on the couch with her cat. Give Me a Sign is her debut novel.

Abby Rice of Title IX: A Bookstore in Mystic, Connecticut, served on the panel that selected Sortino’s debut for Indies Introduce. “Give Me a Sign is a smart, touching summer story about community, identity, and reconnecting with who you are,” Rice said of the book. “Lilah is a charming and relatable character, and I can’t wait for readers to experience her camp crushes and shenanigans, while also learning about Deaf culture!”

Here, Sortino and Rice discuss Give Me a Sign.

Abby Rice: What was your inspiration for writing your book?

Anna Sortino: I wanted to write a character with hearing aids, exploring all the nuances I’d never seen in media representation before. Because there’s a wide spectrum of hearing loss, I knew that I needed a full disabled cast to achieve my goal, and that the perfect setting would be summer camp.

Initially I was worried that people wouldn’t be receptive to reading this type of book — since typically disability representation is relegated to one minor role within a story, if any — but the response to Give Me a Sign has already blown me away. Disability is all around us, and it’s time to get more comfortable embracing it.

AR: Give Me a Sign is a wonderful look at how life-changing summer camp can be for kids and teens. Did you attend camp when you were younger? If so, how much of the book is inspired by real-life experiences there?

AS: I attended, and worked at, a few different summer camps when I was younger, though there’s one that served as the main inspiration for this story. The fact that I went to a camp for deaf and blind kids always intrigued people I knew outside those circles, as they couldn’t envision this experience. It was there that I got to dive headfirst into Deaf culture, as well as utilize ASL the most during that period of my life. Unlike Lilah, my summers were never quite as eventful, though still always full of joy and laughter.

AR: The book shows a variety of Deaf and Hard of Hearing experiences: kids learning ASL and those who haven’t, different experiences with cochlear implants and hearing aids, and even touches on the conversations on Youtube and Tiktok about hearing teachers of sign. You do an incredible job of showing the nuance and diversity of the Deaf experience, while also telling a story of a sweet summer romance and camp hijinks. Can you share how you balanced the “important” conversations with the overall story, and how your own experiences played into it?

AS: For a lot of disabled people, these important conversations are a natural part of our lives. Trading stories and experiences is how we can lift each other up, when many other avenues of society often let us down. It’s certainly a balancing act when writing a work of fiction about a community that has been marginalized to make sure that the average reader has enough context, while simultaneously not slowing down the plot. Thankfully, my wonderful editor, Polo Orozco, helped me find that line.

I will say, even from the earliest drafts of this story, the notes I got from others were always “more Isaac please!” and that eagerness delighted me, so the romance naturally grew from a smaller subplot to a much larger arc within this story.

AR: Are there any other books with Deaf characters that you recommend for readers after they’ve finished your book?

AS: We’re reaching a great point in Deaf representation where many of us are finally getting the chance to write from our own experiences, no longer relegated to the sidelines as other people craft inaccurate portrayals. I always recommend Show Me a Sign by Ann Clare LeZotte, which is a great middle grade historical fiction. And coming next summer in the YA space is The Loudest Silence by Sydney Langford, as well as my own second novel, On the Bright Side.

AR: Finally, who do you hope the book reaches?

AS: I love all the hearing readers showing up for this story, whether that be for a first introduction or developing a deeper appreciation of Deaf culture and ASL. At its core, this book is for anyone who has ever felt caught in between, unsure where they belong.

Which is why, in particular, I hope this book can reach as many deaf and hard-of-hearing kids as possible, especially those still trying to figure out their place in this world. The majority of deaf kids are born to hearing parents, and therefore it’s not always easy to find community and support. Hopefully Give Me a Sign can offer some guidance and let anyone who is struggling with their disabled identity know they’re not alone.

Give Me a Sign by Anna Sortino (G.P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young Readers, 9780593533796, Hardcover Young Adult, $18.99) On Sale: 7/11/2023

Find out more about the author on her website.

ABA member stores are invited to use this interview or any others in our series of Q&As with Indies Introduce debut authors in newsletters and social media and in online and in-store promotions. Please let us know if you do.