by Hannah Harrington
Published on 2012-08-28
Genres: Friendship, Romance, Social Issues, Young Adult
Everyone knows that Chelsea Knot can't keep a secret.
Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.
Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she's ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.But there's strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she's done. If only she can forgive herself.
We’ve all known someone like Chelsea Knot at one point or another. For Chelsea, high school means one thing: popularity. There is nothing more important to her than the approval of girls like Kristen, her so-called best friend – and that approval comes from learning, and taking advantage of, the flaws and mistakes of others. She’s the kind of girl who speaks first and thinks later, the kind of girl who can’t help but spill the secrets she’s overheard – but when her inability to consider the feelings of others lands someone in hospital, she’s forced to take a step back and see just how destrcutive her selfishness has become. She feels incredibly guilty about the hurt she’s caused, but when she raises the issue with her friends and starts to think about making amends, Kristen and her cronies absolutely turn on her. Chelsea begins to realize that maybe Kristen isn’t such a great friend after all. She’s vindictive, attention-seeking and worst of all, fake. And as the truth about Kristen dawns on Chelsea, other cracks in the facade start to appear. She can no longer simply turn a blind eye to things she doesn’t want to see.
From the outset, it’s clear that we’re not actually meant to like Chelsea. She’s not only impressionable, she’s also actively judgemental and it seems she’ll do anything to protect her place as one of the queen bees of her high school. But if there’s anything Hannah Harrington can do, it’s create empathy and growth from the most unlikeable characters. As Chelsea takes the drastic step of committing to a vow of silence, she faces torment and abuse at the hands of her peers – but she’s nothing if not determined, and I loved how strong she became, despite her loneliness and vulnerability. For Chelsea, the phrase ‘sometimes things have to get worse before they get better’ is terribly, ironically apt.
Chelsea quickly resigns herself to a friendless existence, but to her surprise, not everyone wants to avoid her like the plague, and this is where Asha comes in. Asha is honest and funny, quirky and frank – and most importantly, she accepts what Chelesea is trying to do with her vow of silence. Asha accepts Chelsea for who she is, even if Chelsea herself doesn’t know quite who that is yet. Asha is probably my favourite character from the entirety of Speechless – second only to Sam.
Oh, Sam. How perfect Sam is for this book. He doesn’t embrace Chelsea with open arms quite as fast as Asha does – he’s a little wary and bears some resentment towards her at first, if only because it’s spilled over from the general anti-Chelsea feeling that’s infected most of their peers – but he soon reveals himself to be an extraordinarily decent guy. Chelsea’s so used to being the centre of attention – in fact, she adores it – that she initially doesn’t see anything special about Sam, but as they spend more and more time together, she finds herself drawn towards the genuine happiness they bring each other. Their romance is a slow burn, sweet and realistic, and I loved it. And remember, Chelsea isn’t speaking aloud for much of the book, so they have to go out of their way to get to know each other, through notes and texts and the growing realization fo how they feel when they’re in each other’s company.
Of course, during all of this, the threat of school bullies and the revenge of the popular girls hasn’t gone away. Chelsea can’t just stop speaking and hope that everyone forgets what she’s done. She has to face up to her problems before she can even think about moving forward. I can’t say I enjoyed her interactions with the bullying, heartless characters who populate her school, but I understood that it was a necessary part of the book. Chelsea has to learn what it’s like to have no defence against these people, and in this respect, Hannah Harrington makes clever and deft choices by refusing to give the reader any neatly-tied-up closure or redemption that other contemporary novels have taught us to expect.
Unfortunately I didn’t love everything about Speechless – the writing style wasn’t something I was immediately enamoured by, there’s a lot of text-speak and slang that can grate on the reader’s attention and most crucially, there’s not much of a plot to drive the story or make it exciting – but overall I found it to be an enjoyable, thought-provoking read. As a mark of how memorable this unique novel is, I’ll leave you with one of my favourite quotes – one of many that’s stayed with me long after I finished reading.
“Hate is… it’s too easy,” he says. “Love. Love takes courage.”
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