BY: JENNIFER GIBSON
There was something different about Jessie. She struggled to fit in at school, surrounded by a web of lies and deceit…until she met Ethan.
Based on a true story, the novel “Sway” is about a hearing impaired teenager named Jessie who tries her best to blend in at school. Every day proves to be a test of her resolve when she is constantly plagued by the ruthless pranks of her classmates who are determined to make her life miserable. When a handsome stranger arrives in the nick of time, Jessie wonders if he is too good to be true. Is Ethan’s attention genuine, or will he betray her trust, too?
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: Sway by Jennifer Gibson is a touching, heart-warming story of struggle, heartache, and courage. The heroine, Jessie, is hard of hearing and as a result suffers cruel pranks from her classmates, who seem to enjoy picking on her because she is different. I alternately laughed and cried with Jessie as she survived high school, since that is basically what she did. I can’t even fathom not being able to hear and can only imagine what the poor girl went through.
Woven into the story is a sweet little romance that adds not only warmth, but vindication. I was thrilled to see Jessie get the hunk—the hunk with rich parents, no less. Ethan is charming and sees Jessie for what she is, not what she isn’t. If you are looking for a story that will make you walk a mile in someone else’s shoes, warm your heart, and give you a greater appreciation for what you have, you can’t go wrong with Sway.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: I thought Sway by Jennifer Gibson was fascinating. While it was again about high school, which I hated and have no desire to revisit, it was different. This book was high school as seen through the eyes of a hearing impaired teenager. And I thought I had it bad! Take your worst, most embarrassing, and most frustrating day of your high school days, and you have just a normal day for Jessie. I can’t even comprehend how hard it must have been for her. It is no secret that children can be cruel. Everyone knows it. But you would think that by the time they reach high school, they should have learned a little compassion. Apparently not. I was heartsick at some of the things that happened to this girl. Imagine having a birthday party that nobody comes to, even though you confirmed with all of your so-called friends the day before that they would be there. And as Jessie looks back on it, it’s obvious that this absence was pre-planned. No one had ever intended to come. I tell you, it broke my heart. But what appalled me even more was the attitude of some of the teachers toward the disabled. Though the author never came right and said, or not that I remember anyway, the story felt to me like it was happening in the late 1980s to mid-1990s. That’s not that long ago, and teachers today are supposed to be enlightened.
Sway is heartwarming and touching, and although Jessie forgives her friends, I am still angry about it. The story gives you a glimpse into a world that everyone should spend a little time in. Maybe then we could learn compassion.
Everything seemed to go wrong from the moment I woke up this morning. First it was my missing gym shorts, then it was not being able to find the essay that was due today. I frantically scarfed down my breakfast to make it to the bus on time and ran down the long lane, barely making it as I awkwardly lugged my overflowing backpack. By the time I reached the doorway at school, my mind was already scattered. It felt like an angry storm was surging inside my head.
I searched through my locker, grabbed the heavy books and binder I needed for my next class, tossed them into my backpack, pulled out my pencil case from the top shelf in one hand, and with my other hand slammed the locker shut. I was in the process of pushing the lock closed when suddenly my pencil case fell to the floor. I sighed, frustrated. It had not been an easy day despite the cheerful weather outside. Even the birds twittered madly as if they were trying to drive me insane.
My fingers reached downwards, just barely grasping the pencil case when it suddenly flew out of my hands. I heard laughter behind me as I glanced up to see Patricia kick it across the smooth floor and snatch it up, gleefully tossing it back and forth with Mitchell.
I groaned. Those two delinquents were the bane of my existence and I really didn’t need this additional aggravation today.
“Oh come on! Can you possibly get any more childish?” I threw up my hands in frustration, my temper simmering as I watched them toss it to each other, laughing.
“What? You don’t wanna play with us?” Patricia snickered scornfully. She knew that she drove me nuts and took pleasure in tormenting me at every possible opportunity. She was one of the meanest girls I had encountered at this school.
Oh, there were others equally as vile but they were more cunning, skillful with their antics. Patricia was a constant thorn in my side and this was not a good day for her to poke it deeper.
I nearly growled. “No, now please give it back to me.” Rage was building in me, bubbling hot in my chest. “I need it for class”
“You really need it?” she said in mock innocence but her lips curling over her teeth revealed her sinister intentions.
“Well then go get it!” I could only stare in shock as she threw it into the boy’s washroom. Stunned, I felt rooted to the floor. My thoughts scrambled madly to catch up with the scene in front of me.
The bell rang, breaking into my thoughts. I numbly watched Patricia and Mitchell pivot around and run down the hall towards their classroom laughing as they went, giving each other high fives.
I breathed in and out several times, trying to gather my wits. I told myself to move to the washroom and look for it. How hard could it be? I thought. Oh for the love of Pete, I’m acting ridiculous. Just get the damn thing or you’ll be late for class!
I strolled over to the boys’ washroom, shoved the door open and yelled, “Hello? Anyone in there?” When there was no response, I moved in a bit farther and peeked around the corner, searching the floor when Roman blocked my view.
“Looking for something, Jessie?”
I always found him a bit hard to read, but most of the time I felt I could trust him. Today he had a demeanor about him that I couldn’t put my finger on.
“Thank god. Did you happen to see a pencil case in here?” I asked hopefully.
“Kind of a strange place for a pencil case,” he mused. Sensing my impatience, he quickly responded, “Nope. Sorry, nothing like that here.” He cast a glance over his shoulder to prove his point.
I narrowed my eyes suspiciously at him. I had a funny feeling that he wasn’t telling the truth.
He pushed past me quickly. “I have to go or I’ll be late for class. Sorry I couldn’t be much help.” He briskly walked away from me, books in hand, looking at his watch.
I sighed “Well, it’s now or never…” I stepped in further to look, scanning the floor. I growled in frustration again “Where did it go? How can a pencil case disappear?” I turned around and walked out perplexed.
“Damn it! Now I’m really late for class!” I ran as fast as I could, my pink sneakers squeaking on the glossy floor. I skidded to a stop, grabbing the doorframe to stop myself from falling sideways and burst into the classroom. Everyone stared at me as I walked in.
Mr. Wilson glared at me from underneath his glasses, holding a book in his hand, poised midair. “You’re late Jessie. Sit down so that I may continue my lecture.” He motioned at my desk, his voice stern.
“I’m sorry. But it wasn’t my fault!” I started to reply but he raised his palm like a stop sign
“Uh, uh! Sit down!” he responded more sternly this time, his face becoming more flushed. I sneaked a glance to the back of the class where Patricia and Mitchell sat and spotted them smirking.
Casting my eyes downwards, I felt ashamed for creating a spectacle. I dragged my feet to my desk, pulling out my books, and placing them on the table with a thud. I quickly scrambled through my backpack for a pen. My fingers scraped the bottom while I searched for one, then finally grasped it, and placed it beside my books.
Then I quickly grabbed the FM system, a small box that fit in the palm of my hand, slid the power button to ON, stood up, and proceeded to hand it to Mr. Wilson who was waiting for me, palm already out.
“Finished? Thank you,” he sighed deeply, placing the loop over his head so the microphone sat on his chest a few inches from his chin.
I sat back down as he began to speak, his voice fading out of my thoughts, while I busily clipped the boots onto my hearing aids, and turned the volume up a notch.
I slunk deeper into my chair, scowling at today’s turn of events, feeling miserable. I concentrated as much as I could, but my thoughts kept wandering, unfocused, wondering what to do about the pencil case. I didn’t have much money to pay for a new one or for getting more pens, coloring pencils, erasers, calculator, and so on.
It may not mean much to most people, but it was a pain to ask my parents for extra money to purchase yet more school supplies, yet again. I grimaced at the thought of their angry scowls and their response: “Why can’t you take better care of your school supplies? Honestly, is that too much to ask?”
I drummed my fingers on the edge of the desk, trying to come up with a feasible plan. I decided when I got home, I’d go through my drawers and see if I could find some old supplies—and felt marginally better.
Finally, the much-anticipated bell rang and I scrambled to snatch up my books and backpack, rushing forward to gather the microphone from Mr. Wilson. As I reached out to grab it, Patricia slammed into my shoulder muttering, “Sorry,” with false sincerity, eyes gleaming with malice.
How can anyone behave like a prick and get away with it? I wondered as I marched out the door.
I quickly rushed towards the gym, not daring to be late, changed briskly, and strolled into the large gymnasium. The rest of the class formed a semicircle around Mrs. Roberts and a new instructor. He wore a crisp white uniform with a faded black belt wrapped around his waist.
Mrs. Roberts spoke up. “Okay class, we have a new instructor with us for this month.” She gestured towards him. “This is Sensei Jonas. He will be teaching self-defense for the next few weeks. I expect all of you to listen to him and show him the same respect that you show us at school.” She turned towards him, nodded at him and said, “They’re all yours Sensei Jonas.”
He clapped his hands together “All right group! Glad to see all of you here today!”
I rolled my eyes at his remark since the classes were mandatory, plus he was a bit too perky for me today.
Walking quickly to the front, he pointed to the area in front of him. “Okay, I want everyone to form several lines, spreading out from the sides. Make sure that there is a lot of space all around you,” he said cheerfully but with authority, his voice commanding.
I groaned and shuffled towards the front, close to him. The gym was spacious and unbelievably echoing. Despite his loud, booming voice, his words bounced off the walls making them hard to understand. I had no choice but to join the line at the front of the class. He smiled when he spotted me moving in his direction “Excellent!” he said, clapping his hands eagerly.
As I waited for the rest of the class to line up, I watched him organize the group with ease. He looked strong, even though his uniform hid most of his physique, and walked with a straight back, full of confidence. His dark, short hair was slightly wavy, his moustache neatly trimmed. I gritted my teeth, biting back a tart remark that I couldn’t stand moustaches. They covered too much of a person’s lips, making it nearly impossible to speech read them. I just hoped that I could follow him during his classes.
Still seething over the callous prank that Patricia and Mitchell pulled on me earlier, I sighed deeply, trying to calm down, and thought, Could this day get any worse?
A strong commanding voice broke my train of thought and I glanced towards Sensei Jonas. “Good job forming the lines everyone!” He seemed genuinely pleased at the group’s efficiency at lineup which was a simple task for us.
“Now, in Martial Arts, we always begin our classes with a bow.” He strolled back and forth across the front of the class which was driving me nuts since I was struggling to hear him and follow his lips while he moved around. I thought, Please stand still! As if on cue, he stopped and turned to face the class.
“Therefore, I want everyone to put their feet together, hands on the sides of your legs.” As he demonstrated the pose, he continued. “Now, you are going to bend at the waist and bow down slowly, okay?”
“Let’s try it now,” he said as he watched us. “Bow towards me.”
It felt so strange and foreign to me and I felt deeply self-conscious of doing it.
“Good job!” he said as we stood upright again. “This time, I will give a command to let you know when it’s time to bow. As soon as I say Keske, you will promptly bring your feet together, hands to your sides.
“Let’s try it now.” He uttered the command quickly and loudly, “Keske!” and brought his feet sharply together, slapping his legs with his palms.
“Next, I will call out Rei which means you are to bow.” He looked at us, scanning around the room. “Ready?” Again, he loudly proclaimed, “Rei!” and bowed at the waist.
“Very good!” he said as he straightened up and stood at ease. “And you can all relax for a moment.”
I listened intently as he talked to us.
“Next we will learn how to do a very simple kick.” He spoke with ease, obviously used to speaking in front of many students.
“This type of kick is an excellent way of disarming your opponent, catching them by surprise.” He went on to explain in detail “You see on most people, it hurts to be kicked in the groin, even for the ladies.” He saw the looks of surprise on our faces “Obviously it has the most impact on the men…unless they happen to be wearing a jock,” he added as a joke.
“If someone ever tries to grab you, this technique will give you enough time to get away and even deliver another blow if necessary.
“All right, now, what I want everyone to do is place their feet about shoulder width apart, bending your knees slightly.” He watched us try out this position as he strolled across the floor.
He walked back to his usual spot. “Now I want you to raise your hands at shoulder height to protect your face. Keep your hands open though. We don’t want your opponent to be aware of what you are about to do. A closed fist is a visual sign, an obvious indication that you want to fight. An open hand is simply a defensive gesture.”
I raised my hands upwards, feeling a bit silly and out of place as he continued with his demonstration.
“Good. Now bring your right knee upwards. Hold it there for a second, bring out your leg and point your toes downwards.” He raised his leg in unison with us, showing us the movements.
“Okay, and bring it back slowly and place your foot back down.
“Let’s do the same thing with the other foot, bring up your knee, extend your leg, and bring it back down,” he said, swiftly bringing his own leg down as he spoke.
“Excellent work everyone! And relax. I will demonstrate how it should look at high speed.” He stood in front, looking strong and formidable as he concentrated, sending out waves of power. Suddenly he kicked with such force that his uniform snapped sharply and loudly. It was impressive and yet also threatening.
“This time I will do it in combination with a kiai. Ready? Just watch.” He swiftly snapped out his leg and uttered a loud yell that reverberated throughout the gym, startling us. Some of the students staggered backwards in surprise. My heart thudded in fear and shock from the sudden burst of energy.
We all looked at each other, eyes wide, murmuring under our breath “Wow!” “Did you see that?”
“Now do you see its effectiveness?” He nodded at us, referring to our surprised reactions. “The Kiai comes from our solar plexus. It’s a short burst of energy that helps prepare our body for a fight.”
He looked at us and pointed a finger upwards, adding an afterthought “Plus it scares the crap out of your opponent.” He grinned. “It’s a great tool to startle them momentarily.
“Fabulous. Now let’s practice these kicks again. This time, do it with a little bit of force. You are all welcome to add a Kiai if you wish to do so.”
No one said anything as we were all a bit too shy and self-conscious.
I focused my attention on the kick, feeling a sense of exhilaration as I did. I loved the motion and its power. The more I practiced and the more strength I put behind it, the more I could feel the anger being released. It was as if I was channeling my frustration out through my legs. I could feel the tension flow off my shoulders for the first time all day.
We continued working on our kicks until it was time to dismiss the class. We bowed in response to his command and left the gym towards the changing room. Everyone was abuzz with excitement creating a hum of noise as we quickly changed out of our gym clothes.
Open Book Society:
Monday, March 18, 2013: Dawn of Open Book Society recommends Sway for everyone.
She says: “Sway is a beautifully written short story that has a moral lesson. Jennifer Gibson shares the daily struggles of a young girl who is hearing impaired…I never considered what it would be like to be hearing impaired. I freak out if my glasses break and I can’t see facial expressions. It must isolate you to a degree that makes you feel lonely a lot. I work for a disabled woman. We are far quick to judge and/or overlook the disability. It’s important for us to adapt to them and to show deference. HELP THEM IF YOU CAN – WHETHER IT’S TO OPEN A DOOR OR HELP THEM UNDERSTAND A SIGN!!! Be more aware of people with disabilities because their lives are not easy and by a simple gesture, we can make their day better. I recommend the book to all. Teachers should use Sway to help students understand disabilities and bullying. Parents should read it with their children to help them understand as well. I see this book as a great teaching tool.” READ FULL REVIEW