25 September 2012

Silence is golden?

Speechless by Hannah Harrington (Harlequin Teen trade paperback, 28 August 2012).

 Chelsea Knot's best friend Kristen is probably the most popular girl in their high school, so Chelsea feels  honored to be Kristen's "chosen".  She's achieved the position at the expense of other girls who have held it previously, so she knows that she has to work hard to keep it.  Still, she's sure that Kristen would never treat her as badly as she now treats those others.

She believes that the best way to stay at the top of Kristen's friend list is to make sure she knows all the "best" gossip and shares it at the most opportune times.

Until Kristen's New Year's Eve party, which Chelsea attends by lying to her parents.  Though she's not usually much of a drinker, she finds herself overdoing it on Jell-o shots.  She feels ill, and because all the bathrooms are in use, she runs up to the guest bedroom, where she sees something truly gossip-worthy.

No longer feeling ill, she goes back to the party and blurts out what she's seen to everyone in the room.  Immediately she feels badly, but she feels even worse the next day when she finds out that a boy is in the hospital after having been badly beaten.

Her way of dealing with this is a bit extreme:  taking a cue from a National Geographic article about Buddhist monks, she decides that the best way to deal with her big mouth is to stop talking.  Completely.

Not unexpectedly, her decision is received with skepticism and resistance.  One of her teachers even goes so far as to give Chelsea a detention each time she refuses to answer a question in class.  Some of her fellow students are much less subtle.  But others applaud her and allow her to work things out in her own time.

Of course, Chelsea learns a great deal, not just about herself, but about how true friends behave.

This is an extremely powerful book.  Harrington makes both of Chelsea's personas  understandable.  The dramatic change in her priorities happens over a relatively short period of time, but still feels believable. 

The anti-bullying movement Love is Louder is encouraging teens to read and share Speechless in order to combat bullying.  In fact, I believe all parents of school-aged kids shoud read this important book. 

FTC Full Disclosure: Many thanks to the publisher, who sent me a galley for review purposes.

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