Book review: Haben

Haben: The Deafblind Woman Who Conquered Harvard Law by Haben Girma

From Goodreads

Born with deaf-blindness, Girma grew up with enough vision to know when someone was in front of her and enough hearing to know when someone close to her was talking. However, she had difficulty reading facial features or distinguishing people in group conversations. Relying on her own problem-solving skills, Girma overcame roadblocks while simultaneously obtaining her undergraduate and then law degree.

In the process, she developed new methods of communication and found her calling in advocating for the deaf and blind communities in more accessible communication, education, and employment opportunities. As a lawyer and advocate, Girma shares a collection of vignettes illustrating the defining points in her life. She peppers her writing with a witty sense of humor and showcases her strength in facing obstacles, along with challenging antiquated societal beliefs about people with disabilities, whether describing her experience climbing Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier or helping a drunk friend get to his dorm by using her seeing-eye dog that he adores as a lure.

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I have a lot of thoughts about this book, but they can ultimately be summed up as “I was disappointed”. I have this feeling for many reasons.

First, this book read like it was a middle grade memoir, which, as far as I can tell, it isn’t. Being middle grade isn’t inherently a bad thing, but when an adult memoir reads as a middle grade memoir, that is an issue. It just felt like it was written for 13-year-olds rather than adults, and the writing felt juvenile. Based on the prologue and epilogue, and the fact that she’s a Harvard-trained, scholarship-winning lawyer, I know Girma is a fantastic writer. But unfortunately, that writing wasn’t showcased in this book. Instead, the writing in this book felt very juvenile, which made it harder for me to enjoy.

Additionally, her attending Harvard Law School is more or less brushed over. Given that it’s in the title of the book, I expected the bulk of the book to be about her experience getting into and attending law school. However, there are two chapters of her time at law school, and very little about the accommodations she was provided/needed. Ultimately, I just wanted more.

All that being said, I still definitely recommend this book. Learning about the struggles of being deafblind was really interesting and eye-opening. Ableism is something that I’m always trying to identify, and reading her struggles definitely helped me identify some of my biases and things I had never considered. Disabled authors are not often promoted in the book community, and I think, despite its flaws, this book is still a really important read.

So those are my thoughts! Have you read this book? What were your thoughts? Do you have any recommendations for books by disabled authors? Let me know!

Ally xx


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