Set in the early 1800s, Sail Me Away Home by Ann Clare LeZotte tells the story of Mary Elizabeth Lambert. Mary, a deaf-mute living in Chilmark, Massachusetts, travels to Paris to return with ideas for starting a school in the Americas for the non-speaking deaf population. Like a bee pollinating flowers, Mary hopes to return with methods that will enable the languages of the deaf and the speaking to converge.

Born with hereditary deafness, something that was not an anomaly in Martha’s Vineyard from 1740 to the late 1800s, Mary is determined “to treat all—no matter their dress, parentage, or how many acres their family owns—as equals” (5). Strong-willed and passionate, Mary has a soft spot for misfits and refuses to believe that any child is less worthy than another. Rather, she turns away from judgment and bigotry with a desire to ensure that all have access to an education. Mary does not wish to see the deaf languish, maltreated and pushed to the margins by those who believe that a speaking voice is superior to the voice of those who speak with signs. She hopes for “a place where deaf children can live safely and receive the education they deserve” (174).

It is this dream for access and safety that sends her on an adventure to Paris from her home in the Vineyard. Believing that sign language isn’t a replacement for oral speech, that one form of communication doesn’t privilege another, Mary will travel with missionaries whose mission defies her beliefs. As Reverend Lee tells her, “The steps you take may feel like a betrayal to others. Even people you care for. That happens to all of us as we grow. We inadvertently injure even those we love in the process of advancing our own ambitions” (42).

Another lesson comes through a writer Mary meets on her passage and who warns her to be cautious about accepting “attention without examining intention” (153).

In Paris, Mary meets Louis Laurent Marie Clerc and Jean Massieu, two former students of Abbé de L’Epée. As her dream takes shape, Mary worries that blending two cultures might mean the loss of something unique. Still, she remains hopeful and steadfast.

Although Sail Me Away Home is Book Three in a trilogy, it reads clearly as a stand-alone text.

  • Posted by Donna

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