Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Speechless by Hannah Harrington

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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.

It’s absolutely no secret at all as to how much I adore Harrington’s debut novel Saving June. When she had mentioned to us in her interview last year that she was working on Speechless, I knew that she’d be sharing something fabulous with us again.

Speechless deals with the hard topics of bullying and gossiping. Chelsea lives in the upper echelon of her high school’s social hierarchy. I didn’t like her at first. We’re not supposed to. She represents everything that is awful about high school. Gossiping is a way to maintain her status though I will say she is most definitely a follower here as she’s always under the influence of her best friend, Kristen. At Kristen’s New Year’s Eve party, she gets drunk and unwittingly becomes witness to a very private moment between two boys. Unable to keep her mouth shut as usual, she blurts out what she’s seen to everyone resulting in a disgusting act of violence that lands the victim in the hospital. Realizing that her gossiping was responsible for the violent act, she decides to refrain from speaking for as long as she can. The way she sees it, nothing good can come from her talking so why not for ?nce be silent?

The tables turn on Chelsea swiftly after she comes forth to the authorities with the truth about the perpetrators. It is a long, painful fall down to the bottom tier. She’s completely isolated and removed from her former friends. At this point you expect the author to throw in some grand life lesson learned. She doesn’t. Instead Chelsea very stoically accepts her “sentence”. She understands that her actions have hurt people and that they all need time to calm down. She's very simplistic about this at first. She’s under the notion that things will blow over soon and that things will be normal again. Not so much. Everyone is downright vile towards her including her former best friend.

What makes Speechless outstanding is the honesty with which Chelsea approaches her new status. She doesn’t experience any immediate epiphanies. It’s a gradual learning curve. She misses her old life, especially Kristen. Now that she’s exiled from the cool crowd, she does meet other kids at school, people she admits she was completely unaware of. She examines her decision to turn her former friends in to the police but it’s surprising that she doesn’t necessarily see it as doing the right thing – just something she had to do. Her vow of silence starts out as a way for her to assuage her guilt but becomes an opportunity for introspection. She gains remarkable insight by simply being silent. It’s as if her other senses have kicked into high gear and she’s truly listening and seeing people for the first time. Her new friends Asha and Sam are among many delightful highlights in the book. Their friendship gives Chelsea a whole new lease on her high school life.  

There’s so much more I want to add about the story itself but I’ll refrain from giving it away.  I cannot begin to describe how this story has wrapped itself around me. Hannah Harrington is a very gifted storyteller with an amazing ability to just capture your heart by diving into these very real moments with such authenticity and compassion. You get into the mindset of these individuals and understand what’s motivating them because you’re living vicariously through them.  Harrington’s writing evokes strong feelings because her characters are genuine and you trust the direction she’s taking them in. They’re very much alive and heartfelt because of the voice she gives them.

Another reason to love Speechless it features a young girl who matures into a strong young woman. I don't come across enough of them in contemporary YA fiction.  It's about becoming a better person after having gone through all the crap and nonsense life throws at you. It’s about finding a voice that has purpose. 
~ Bel



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