When Cece discovers she is deaf, she is frightened and stays close to her mother. When she gets hearing aids she is excited to hear people but still has trouble. She explains that it sounds like people are talking to her underwater. Her friend asks if she wants a coke and Cece hears, "Doo yoo wan sumding to dring? ...a goat?" She explains lip-reading with the illustration showing her as Sherlock Holmes, discovering three clues to figure out what people are saying. Television is the hardest for her to understand. The clever illustrations have rabbits with big ears, perhaps a symbol for hearing loss and the importance hearing plays in one's life.
Cece goes to a school with other deaf children for kindergarten but then the family moves away and she is mainstreamed into the classroom. She gets a "Phonic Ear," a big clunky machine that she straps to her chest and wears ear plugs while the teacher wears a microphone. Cece feels that her deafness makes her different or special in a bad way and she spends much of her time trying to hide it. She is lonely in a world where the kids around her can hear. When she's at a sleepover and they turn off the lights she's so upset that she's lost her visual cues and can't understand the girls that she asks to leave the party.
Cece deals with the challenges of making friends with her hearing issues by creating an alter ego, a superhero named "El Deafo." This funny character speaks her mind to friends and is empowered by her hearing loss. Cece is learning to embrace her uniqueness as something good when she starts fantasizing about "El Deafo." The subplot of her having a crush on a boy adds humor and her private thoughts are a kick where she gets back at people who make dumb comments by thinking of using feedback to make her hearing aid squeal loudly.
Her first friend is bossy and possessive, but Cece likes that she doesn't care that she has a hearing aid. Her next friend talks loud and slow to her making an issue out of her deafness. Her third friend is "just right" and never even mentions her hearing aid, treating her like a true friend. When an accident happens her true friend freaks out and it takes over a year for the two to reconcile. Later when she does figure out a way to make her hearing aid "cool" with the kids in class, it is a freeing moment for her where the reader is cheering along with her classmates. Make sure you read the author's note at the end where Cece explains how deaf people embrace their deafness and that there is no right or wrong way. Last year, Vince Vawter of "Paperboy" said that his "was a story that needed to be told." Cece Bell could say the same thing. It is not only worth telling, it is worth hearing.