I hate the label Selective Mutism – as if I choose not to speak, like a kid who refuses to eat broccoli. I’ve used up every dandelion wish since I was ten wishing for the power to speak whenever I want to. I’m starting to wonder if there are enough dandelions.
Piper Rhodes doesn’t talk to strangers. But far from this being a sign of following parental rules, her silence seems inexplicable. She can talk at home, and to people she knows well, but at school and in the community, words fail her. This causes lots of problems, but as she starts at a new school for her final year of schooling, Piper is never more aware of just how problematic it can be. Teachers think she’s being rude, and making friends is difficult. Then there’s West: the school captain, soccer-star, boy who has it all. He seems intent of getting to know her, even if it means writing notes.
Selective Mutism is a difficult condition to live with and for other people to comprehend. Even the name is problematic, as Piper complains, implying a ‘selection’ or choice being made. The Things I Didn’t Say is a wonderful exploration of the challenges it holds for one teen character, at the same time as being just a great read about friendship, peer pressure, and parental expectation. Piper has changed schools by choice after losing her best friend following a drunken party, and at the new school finds both new friends and new enemies. West, who appears to have it all, also has struggles, particularly with meeting the expectations his parents have of him. Their seemingly unlikely relationship blossoms through notes and text messages, but is threatened by people around them.
An excellent young adult read.
The Things I Didn’t Say, by Kylie Fornasier
It was a young voice on the phone. Male. ‘Are you Francesca Vega?’
‘I’m Frankie. Who the hell are you?’
‘Is Juliet Vega your mum?’
‘Why are you asking?’
‘Cos I’m Xavier Green. She’s my mum too.’
Bam, crash, ka-pow. Hell of a game changer.
Frankie Vega is in trouble. She’s broken a boy’s nose and is at risk of being expelled. But that’s only the latest of her troubles, which began when her mother abandoned her when she was four. Since then Frankie has been scared and angry with just about everybody. So when a kid turns up claiming to be her brother, Frankie is wary of being hurt. Then, when Xavier goes missing, she isn’t sure whether he’s let her down or whether he is actually lost. It seems no one else but Frankie cares where he has gone.
Frankie is a moving and absorbing contemporary novel. Frankie is a sassy yet inwardly fragile character whose first person voice is believable and oddly endearing, even when she’s behaving badly towards the few people in her life who seem to care for her. Her story is heartbreaking but also has funny and heartwarming moments.
Dealing with issues including what constitutes family, homelessness and self-belief, Frankie is a brilliant young adult novel.
Frankie, by Shivaun Plozza
She blows a kiss, then the screen goes blank. And, suddenly, I’m back to being alone with my thoughts.
As much as I’m happy for her, it’s really hard seeing her life unfold while mine stays still.
I only have to wait a year. As soon as this year is over, I’ll be able to get out. Out of my school, out of my home, out into the real world, and on to the rest of my life.
Gillian is the only one who actually wants to be on the yearbook committee. With her best friend gone, her Dad’s political career seeming more important than his daughter, and the unwanted attention of bully it-girl Lauren, being on the committee could be the only good thing happening in her life. The other members aren’t so sure. Matty’s a loner with a terrible home-life, Ryan is the school captain but his imagined future as a soccer star has been wrecked by an accident, Tammi’s only there because Lauren wants her to spy, and Charlie is new to the school and wants to be back in Melbourne, where she belongs. They are five very different people, but it’s their job to catalogue one final year.
The Yearbook Committee is a multi-voice novel which follows these five unlikely partners as they traverse a difficult year both in and out of school. Their enforced time together results in new friendships as well as new challenges as members of the group face a range of problems including cyberbullying, parental expectations, a mother with crippling depression, shattered dreams and much more.
While the use of five first person viewpoint characters means it takes a little while to get to know who’s who, but each voice is distinct and as the story progresses the reader is taken inside each teen’s life, and, by novel’s end will really care what happens, and to whom.
A gripping read.
The Yearbook Committee, by Sarah Ayoub
Harper Collins, 2016
She’s sitting under a tree, knees pulled up to her chest, waiting for her mum. All she can imagine is Carl and JD in the car. She cringes and tries to make the images disappear, but they won’t. She imagines Carl and JD in hospital beds. A broken neck – that doesn’t necessarily mean paralysis; she’s sure she’s heard of people who have broken their necks and totally recovered. And what’s a coma anyway – isn’t that just sleeping? Don’t people usually wake after a little while?
The end of year 12 is drawing close, and Lucy can sense change coming. It’s time to knuckle down and study hard, to make sure she does well. She has plans for after school, too. Perhaps she doesn’t need to be a serious relationship with Carl, especially when he seems to smother her – except for the night of the formal when he ignores her. Breaking up with someone can be difficult, but for Lucy, it’s very very complicated.
Crashing Down is a gripping tale of consequences, life choices and growing up the hard way. Like any seventeen year old school leaver, Lucy has hopes and dreams, but she also has some pretty hefty decisions to make, and after her boyfriend is injured in a car accident, and she realises she is pregnant, those decisions are pretty weighty.
McCaffrey doesn’t shy away from putting her characters in difficult situations, and Lucy’s situation is one which would challenge any teen – or adult. But the chain of events which follows is both plausible and thought provoking.
Suitable for older teens.
Crashing Down, by Kate McCaffrey
Fremantle Press, 2014
Available from good bookstores or online.
I wait for him, the cold seeping through my clothes, until it finally dawns on me that he’s not coming back. And I wonder why he chose her instead of me? Why he went looking for her when I was right there.
Tai has been Juliet’s best friend since kindergarten, and they are both sure nothing will ever change that. But now, in their final year of highschool, they are realising that their feelings for each other might be something more than friendship. The magic of falling in love is sweet, and they dream of their future together. But those dreams are shattered when Tai goes to the doctor for a recurring headache – and learns that he has an incurable brain tumour. Suddenly their time together seems all too short.
There is no pretending that this is going to be a happy ever after book. The blurb makes it clear that not everything you wish for can come true. But whilst it is a truly sad story, it is told with a mix of wit, honesty and poignancy that makes it a pelasure to read, in spite of the heart wrenching nature of the subject matter and, inevitably, the ending.
Davidson deals with a tough topic senistively and realistically, using the dual perspectives of the young couple. She also doesn’t forget their friends and, importantly, their families, adding to the sense of authenticity. The use of the first person narrative takes the reader on an intimate journey.
Not an easy topic, but a rich, rewardng read.
Everything Left Unsaid, by Jessica Davidson
Available from good bookstores or online from Fishpond. Buying through this link supports Aussiereviews.