Life on Martha’s Vineyard has been mostly ideal for 11-year-old Mary Elizabeth Lambert, the protagonist of Ann Clare LeZotte’s historical novel SHOW ME A SIGN.
It’s 1805 and she’s lived in Chilmark her whole life, unaware of the safe harbor it has provided from the outside world. Mary and her fellow Chilmark residents are descendants of English colonists such as her great-great-grandfather Jonathan Lambert, who arrived in 1692 from the Weald, a region in Kent known for its deaf population.
Over time, as the townspeople have become a mix of the hearing and the deaf, they’ve replaced Lambert’s English sign language with their own homegrown version. This community seems to embrace intersectional identities. Mary, who is deaf, enjoys amateur spy expeditions with her best friend, Nancy Skiffe — who was born hearing to deaf parents — and exchanges stories with the grizzled hermit Ezra Brewer. She trails after Thomas Richards, a freed former slave working as a farmhand for her father, or his daughter, Sally, who is Wampanoag Indian on her mother’s side.
But the islanders coexist at the edge of discord. Freedmen, like Thomas, aren’t invited into Mary’s home; he could be kidnapped and sold back into slavery at any time. Irish immigrants are only slightly more accepted. Colonists, like Nancy’s father, angrily lay claim to lands that the Wampanoag have lived on for generations. Amid such tensions among the people she loves,
Mary has one overriding concern. It has been eight months since her beloved brother, George, was killed in a carriage accident as they played on the high road. Pushed out of harm’s way by George, Mary has been guiltily concealing the fact that she was the one who suggested their outing.