Monday, January 14, 2013

Speechless Could Have Said It Better

(Image from Barnes & Noble)

Secrets are not safe with 16-year-old Chelsea Knot.  Everyone knows that.  The juicier the gossip, the more likely she is to spread it.  That's just what it takes to guarantee her place at the top of her high school's food chain.  So, when Chelsea learns a classmate's shocking secret, there's no way she's going to keep it to herself.  But sharing her discovery has terrible consequences.  A boy is beaten almost to death.  When Chelsea identifies his attackers for the police, she's labeled a traitor.  Shunned by the A-listers who used to be her friend, Chelsea finds herself in a place she's never been: the bottom.    

Unwilling to let her big mouth hurt anyone else, Chelsea takes a vow of silence.  Not everyone gets what she's doing, but she sticks with her plan, refusing to utter a word, even when she's ridiculed and bullied.  It's not easy, not at all.  And, yet, it's in the quiet that she learns to hear herself, to know herself, to forgive herself.  But will others do the same?  Or is Chelsea doomed to spend the rest of her high school career as the worst kind of social outcast?

As you can imagine, it's a little hard to feel sorry for the heroine of Speechless, a debut YA novel by Hannah Harrington.  It doesn't help that Chelsea's pretty self-centered, even as she's being "humbled" by her classmates.  Somehow, she just never got roughed up enough for me to sympathize with her.  She's funny, though, and her voice feels authentic.  So, there's that.  And the writing's better-than-average for a teen novel.  There's that, too.  Plot-wise, though, the story suffers because, really, there is no plot.  Chelsea has no clear goal except (it seems) to draw attention to herself, which doesn't do much for her likability.  Overall, I think the novel makes a good point, it just does it in kind of a heavy-handed way and through a heroine who's not all that convincing.  

(Readalikes:  The story reminds me of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson)

Grade:  C

If this were a movie, it would be rated:  R for strong language, sexual content and depictions of underage drinking/partying

To the FTC, with love:  I received an e-ARC of Speechless from the generous folks at Harlequin Teen via Edelweiss.  Thank you! 

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