BY: JENNIFER GIBSON
Being a teenager is hard enough. To be hard of hearing on top of that is like being stuck in the middle of a never ending soap opera.
In Compass, the sequel to Sway, Jessie’s life begins to change its course, sending her toward a new reality. When her world is suddenly ripped apart by an angry rival, the one person she trusted to stand by her side simply walks away. With her composure shattered, Jessie questions everything she believed about herself, and as her life takes her on a new path, it turns into a perilous journey full of surprising twists and turns.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: I thought Compass by Jennifer Gibson was a very good book. It’s hard to be a teenager, but even harder to be a teenager who is hard of hearing. Not quite deaf, but not fully hearing either, Jessie feels stuck between two worlds, seemingly not fitting in anywhere. Though her life is wrought with challenges, from being the victim of pranks and bullying by her school peers, to disbelieving teachers, and even vengeful dojo’s sensei’s, Jesse isn’t about to let these any of these things hold her back from doing what she wants to do or change the kind hearted person that she is. And, like all teenagers, sometimes, for Jessie, it seems that the odds are overwhelming and the problems are never-ending. But even then she finds that encouragement can come from the most usual of places, even from a cat named Serena.
With the support of her boyfriend, Ethan (who the kids at school don’t believe really exits) who loves her just the way she is, his father the dojo -master who encourages her to continue learning karate, and from the continual love and support of her own family, Jessie finds herself in new worlds, from karate competitions, to fencing, and even to spending time at a summer camp for kids with disabilities. Each new situation challenges her own disability and tests her resolve. They also help her to discover her own inner strength and beauty. She begins to not only find herself, and where she belongs in the world, but to “believe” in what can be if she believes in herself
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Compass by Jennifer Gibson is about life—a hard life, full of challenges and tribulations. Like I did with Sway, the last book by Gibson, I found myself getting incredibly angry about the way this hard-of-hearing teenager was treated by her teachers, students, and co-workers. At a couple of points in the book, I actually had to put it down and get a handle on my temper before I could continue reading. According to Gibson’s bio, her books are based on her own life as a hard-of-hearing teenager. Which I take to mean that these things really happened to her. That fact makes me so mad, I wish I could go back in time and beat those idiots senseless for the way they treated this girl. I am frankly amazed that Gibson turned out sane enough to even write about her experiences. In my humble opinion, there is absolutely no excuse for the way this girl was treated. Yes, I know that kids can be cruel and that disabled kids are often persecuted and bullied by their classmates. But what I cannot understand or accept is that the teachers and bus drivers not only allowed those students to get away with it, their own treatment of this girl was hardly better than that of her classmates and sometimes worse. How do these people live with themselves?
One of the jobs I had while working my way through college was assisting in a center for disabled kids. I saw firsthand how these kids suffer and how they struggle to live normal lives. With all the things they have to go through daily just to live normal lives, it is unthinkable to me that they should also have to suffer abuse from those of us who don’t have to contend with their challenges. We “normal” people really should know better. Gibson’s books open a window into the world of the disabled that is blunt, honest, and touching. Perhaps if Gibson’s books had been available when she was a teenager, those idiots I want to beat senseless might have had a little more compassion.
Random thoughts swirled around in my mind and our shoes squeaked and squealed loudly on the gymnasium floor as we started our light jog, warming up for practice. I kept thinking about how it seemed as if I was stuck between two worlds. I wasn’t considered to be a fully-hearing person nor completely deaf. I didn’t really fit in either group. I felt as if I was twisting in the wind as I pondered about where I belonged in school and life in general. It seemed as if I was stuck in the middle of a never-ending soap opera.
Ahead of me, Donna, Amber, and Jackie, were chatting back and forth as they ran. I had stopped trusting them last year after they’d played a cruel trick on me for my birthday. Unfortunately, we all played on the same basketball team, and I was stuck with them for the time being. I was sure that the feeling was mutual.
We had a new coach this season, Mr. Collins, a delightful character if you’re interested in tortuous drills. He strutted across the floor like an arrogant peacock with his back ramrod straight, a perfect image of a drill sergeant. His hair was cropped short, sticking straight up, as white as snow. He scowled darkly at us, whistle in his mouth, ready to blast it on a moment’s whim.
His gaze caught the animated discussion in front of me, which I’m sure was highly intellectual and engrossing—not. I stared at them, dumbfounded that they would be so reckless. He froze and an eager, malevolent smile spread across his features.
Crap. I saw what was coming and mentally cursed them for being so careless. Who knows? Maybe it was deliberate.
He blew sharply on his whistle, a high shrill sound that momentarily caused my hearing aids to stop functioning. Pointing at the group in front of me, he bellowed, “If you have enough energy to talk, then you’re not working hard enough. Five extra laps!” He blew the whistle again. “Move! Pick up your pace!”
I groaned inwardly. My legs were already starting to burn.
The drills became much harder as we darted back and forth across the floor, doing sprints.
Sweat was beading across my forehead, making my hair slick. I was utterly exhausted and panting hard. My lungs felt as if they were going to explode.
Coach Collins bellowed at us again, his booming bass voice echoing off the ceiling. “All right, ladies, form two lines.” He gestured at the line in front of me. “This line gets the ball.” Then he pointed in my direction. “And this line is the receiving end.”
“The objective is to bounce the ball to your respective partner. The other person then shoots it straight across, hard and fast.”
He stared at us with steely eyes, his broad chin jutting out as he spoke. “Keep your heads up and your hands in front of you. We will start slowly, and then quickly pick up the pace. It will get harder and faster.” He nodded at us, whistle in his hand. “Ready? Go!”
I looked across the floor and did a double-take—Jackie was my partner. Beside me was Donna. Her partner was Amber. Buffy was on my other side. Great, I thought, I’m flanked by the evil Addams family.
Jackie quickly shot out the ball, bouncing it hard on the slick, glossy floor, catching me off guard. I nearly fumbled the ball and caught it in the nick of time as Coach Collins glanced in my direction. I blew out a sharp breath, relieved that I didn’t look like an idiot at that point.
I looked at Jackie and saw her standing there, smirking.
I tossed the ball toward her. It veered off slightly to the right. Her sneer grew as she realized that I was slightly shaken by her aggressive move.
She threw harder this time and I had to take a step back to avoid being hit in the face. My nerves were getting more rattled by the minute.
I gulped back the fear that was rising in my chest, took a deep breath, and blew it out again, feeling my frustration mount. I rolled my shoulders to ease the building tension, no thanks to her, and shot the ball back at her.
She quickly responded, ramming it to the floor with ferocious intensity. It collided with Amber’s ball and they spun wildly out of control, slamming into Donna’s face.
She screamed as I frantically caught one of the balls as it zoomed toward me.
She held her hands over her nose, blood streaming through her fingers, sobbing incoherently.
Coach Collins came running over with a box of tissues in his hands. “Give her space, ladies.” He gave her a handful of tissues and instructed her to squeeze her nose tight to stem the bleeding.
He turned around to face us with a dark glare. “Would someone kindly tell me how the hell this happened?”
Donna looked at me through her teary eyes and pointed her bloody fingers at me. “It was her fault!”
I stood there, still holding the ball, stunned. I sucked in a sharp intake of breath, shocked that she would try to place the blame on me.
I reached out to put my hand on her shoulder to reassure her, she shrugged it off vehemently. “Go away!” she mumbled through the thick layers of bloody tissues.
“I swear it wasn’t me! I was standing right beside you!”
Jackie chimed in, “Yeah, right. Liar,” she said sneering at me as she steered Donna toward a nearby bench. She crooned over her, carrying the box of tissues, looking over her shoulder to stare at me scornfully.
Coach Collins sighed deeply and ran his fingers through his hair, clearly exasperated. “I warned all of you to be cautious! That’s six laps for you, Jessie, get going!”
His voice echoed in my head as I made my way around the gym, jogging slowly. My feet felt like lead, completely drained of energy. I quickly wiped a tear away from my left cheek, trying to hide it from the stares of the rest of the team.
My chest tightened painfully, not only from the running, but also from feeling so betrayed. I swallowed back my sobs as I ran past my teammates.
They all completely ignored me. I stared down at the floor, watching my feet as I ran, hearing the rhythm as it slapped down on each step.
Gasping with each breath, I was determined to be strong.
Gradually, the team broke apart as they finished their drills and strolled toward the locker rooms. I still had one more lap to go when I noticed that the gym was empty. It was at that moment I realized how utterly alone I felt.
Coach Collins barked at me from one corner as he picked up an errant ball. “Jessie! I would like to speak with you.” He pointed his finger downward at the floor where he stood.
I stopped in front of him, gasping and bending over slightly, hands on my hips.
He waited for a moment, then brusquely said, “Jessie, look at me when I speak to you.”
I straightened up, trying hard not to puke at his feet, my mouth completely dry. “Yes sir.” My words came in a harsh whisper. I barely had enough strength to speak.
“What you did today was inexcusable. I’m appalled at the lack of respect that you showed for your teammate’s safety.”
Flustered, I threw up my hands, palms facing upward, in a futile gesture. “But…I had nothing to do with that! I was…”
He put his hand up in my face like a stop sign. “Uh-uh! I will not discuss this with you. I will not tolerate any more reckless behavior on my team. Is that understood?”
“But…” I tried feebly to tell him that it wasn’t my fault but he refused to let me speak another word. He pivoted and walked away from me, carrying the basketballs into the storage room.
I took a step toward him, and then changed my mind.
Instead, I spun around and stomped angrily back to the locker room, whipped off my wet T-shirt and shorts, and threw my shoes on the floor. I looked around and saw that the room was empty.
I sighed and muttered, “No surprise there.”
Sitting on the bench, I leaned my elbows on my knees, my hands in my hair, trying to control my emotions, which were spiraling out of control.
After a few minutes, I grabbed my watch from the pocket of my blue hoodie and glanced at it. “Aw Crap. I’ll be late if I don’t get a move on. Ethan is supposed to meet me at home soon.” I blew out a sigh of frustration. “Could this day get any worse?”
I pulled on my hoodie, zipped up my jeans, and tucked my wet gym clothes into my backpack.
By the time I got home, the sun had dipped behind the clouds, turning the sky a brilliant glowing orange, a perfect complement to the vibrant trees along the lane. They appeared to have exploded into a splendid display of rich hues of crimson and gold. I kicked the fallen leaves as I strolled along the well-worn path to the house.
I looked up to find Ethan, sitting on the porch swing, waiting for me and smiling broadly. The sun cast a golden halo around him, making him appear angelic.
I dumped my backpack on the porch as I leaped up the stairs and strode toward him.
His smile vanished as soon as he saw me, concern etched onto his handsome features.
He reached out to embrace the sides of my face, stroking gently as if to soothe away the despair. “Jessie, what’s wrong?”
I muttered to him, “Coach Collins…” My voice broke. I grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him in, resting my cheek on his chest, feeling his warmth. I felt safe and loved in his arms.
His chest rumbled as he spoke. “What did he do?” Alarm was evident in his voice.
I closed my eyes. I didn’t want to move, didn’t want to say anything. I wanted to banish every thought and feeling that had happened today. All I wanted to do was hold on to him.
“Jessie?” His hands gripped my shoulders and pushed me away. “Look at me please.” He gently lifted my chin up with his hand. “I swear to God, if he did anything out of line—”
I quickly stopped him with a touch of my fingers on his lips. “No. It wasn’t like that.” A fresh tear slid down my face.
He brushed it away with his thumb. “Okay, come here,” he said as grabbed my hand and tugged me onto the porch swing.
He held on to my hand as I spoke. “Coach Collins went berserk today, more than usual, and dumped the blame on me. It was uncalled for since I had nothing to do with it. It was my partner, Jackie, who hit Donna in the face with the basketball. I was standing beside her when it happened.”
My voice started to waver. “Everyone automatically assumed that it was my fault and blamed me for it,” I said sniffling. “He made me do extra laps!”
“At least it was good exercise. It’ll make you stronger.” His eyes twinkled mischievously.
I smacked him on the arm. “Ethan! That’s so not the point! He was mean and cruel. The whole team hates me.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Would you like me to beat them up for you?” he replied as his grin grew bigger and his eyebrows climbed high into his forehead.
I snorted. “Heh. Cute. Yes, could you please? That would make me feel so much better,” I replied sarcastically.
Smiling, he pulled me into his arms.
I drew up my knees beside him, savoring the warmth of his body. I leaned into his chest as he rocked the swing back and forth in a gentle motion.
We stayed together on the swing as the air became increasingly cooler. I started to shiver.
“Getting cold?” he asked as he rubbed his hands vigorously on my arms to warm them up. He brought the swing to an abrupt stop, jarring my thoughts. “Want to go inside and get something to eat? You must be famished.”
I blinked and looked up at him. He bent down and gave me a passionate kiss, his lips tasting mine, sending a rush of emotions through me.
My hands were still gripping his shirt when we finally broke apart, gasping. “Mm, I suppose so. Or…we could continue this.” I brought him closer to me, kissing his soft, tender lips.
Until my stomach growled angrily. I sighed, feeling a bit embarrassed.
“I think your stomach just vetoed that thought. Time to eat!” He slapped my thigh as he stood up. “You’ll need your strength for the tournament.”
He pulled me up with his strong hands. The breeze sent a batch of leaves swirling around us as we strolled toward the kitchen. I bent down and snatched up my backpack on the way in.
I was way too exhausted to think of anything creative and grabbed a box of mac and cheese from the pantry drawer. As I stirred the pasta in the simmering pot, Ethan stood behind me and slipped his arms around my waist, his chin resting on my shoulder.
He snickered as he watched me cook the macaroni.
I glanced up at him. “What’s so funny?’
He shook his head, the corners of his mouth curling up seductively.
I playfully elbowed him in the ribs. “Come on, out with it.”
Finally, he conceded, “I find it hugely ironic that you are making macaroni and cheese, when your mom is a chef.”
“Actually, she’s a caterer,” I corrected him, feeling like a dimwit, my face flushing beet red. “So, sue me. I obviously didn’t get the cooking gene,” I added snarkily.
He spluttered, barely holding back his laughter, giving me a quick kiss on the forehead. “I’m just teasing you. Tell you what. While you make supper…” he said with a mischievous smile. “How about I make a fire in the living room and we can eat out there?”
I nodded as I added the butter and milk. “Sure. That’s sounds great.”
As I carried the plates of steaming pasta toward the couch in front of the fireplace, Ethan stood up like a perfect gentleman and grabbed both of the plates. “Oops, let me help you with that.”
“Thanks. Wow, that’s a great fire,” I said as we sat down. “I can never get it going like that.”
I looked at him as we ate, admiring the effect of the flickering light and shadows as they danced across his chiseled features. It was at that moment that I realized just how lucky I was to have him in my life.
Afterward, I leaned into him at we gazed at the flames. As he draped his arm across my shoulders, he said, “Don’t worry…you’ll do fine at the tournament this weekend. I know that in my heart.”
He reached up with his hand and rubbed my back as he leaned in with a tender kiss.
“God, I hope so. I could use some good news for a change.”
His eyes crinkled at the corners as he chuckled. He stroked the back of my neck with gentle fingers, sending delicious shivers down my spine, the heat of his hand soothing me.
I sighed and snuggled in closer to him, feeling utterly content.
Open Book Society:
Friday, May 3, 2013: Dawn of Open Book Society calls Compass a good teaching tool.
She says: “Compass is the second book in the series by Jennifer Gibson. I first want to express how much I respect Gibson for taking on such difficult issues…I think parents should read this series with their children. We all need to be more aware. That will happen only if we begin a dialogue about it. Compass is also a good teaching tool for teachers. I cannot express how much this series made me more aware.” READ FULL REVIEW