Student’s Novel Asks Us to Listen, Really Listen

Monday, October 28, 2013 - 09:00
Jacqueline Abelson ’16

Most of us hear, but how closely do we listen to the thousands of sounds greeting us each day? That’s the question you’ll ask yourself after reading Hear, a novel by Jacqueline Abelson ’16.

When she was 15, Abelson happened to see a news story about a woman with tumors growing on her auditory nerves. The woman needed surgery to stop the disease, but knew the surgery would leave her deaf.

“It got me thinking about what I would do in that situation,” Abelson recalls. “What grabbed me was that she had a month to keep her hearing before her surgery. I was wondering what you’d do if you had 30 days before everything would go quiet for the rest of your life.”

Already a creative writer as a high school freshman, Abelson let her imagination follow that inquiry, and kept her ears open. She recalls paying attention to—really hearing—ocean waves and bird calls on a family trip to Coronado Island in her native California.

“I couldn’t comprehend how one could function without sound, and that started the gears turning for the story.”

She spun the tale of a fictional teenager trying to prepare herself for a world without the sounds she loves most: her violin, her best friend’s laugh…. And when it was written, Abelson let it sit. For three years. After a rewrite at age 19, Abelson published Hear last year. It is available locally at Odyssey Bookshop.

The English major typically writes stories each summer and lets them mellow for a year or more before showing them to an editor.

She’s currently working on another young-adult novel, this one a fantasy that takes place during Germany’s bombing of British cities during World War II. The story centers on a young boy who lands in an alternate version of his native Britain and has to find his way back home to the real England.

“It’s like Alice in Wonderland and The Wizard of Oz,” she says. Both books suggest that there really is no place like home, if you pay close attention to the sights and sounds around you.

—By Emily Harrison Weir