Speechless by Hannah Harrington
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Troublesome and yet, somehow appealing, Speechless is a book that left me in two camps.
Chelsea Knot is a gossip. And then, she spills the wrong secret. People get hurt, badly, and she ends up as a social pariah. She decides to take a vow of silence, keeping her mouth shut to make sure she doesn’t say anything and this doesn’t go without being noticed. Her school life swiftly becomes hell and it’s only through the support of some new and unexpected friends that she’s surviving. What’s going to happen when or if Chelsea starts to speak again?
I liked this, and I disliked it in pretty much equal measure. I had difficulties because, for at least a good third of it, I found Chelsea amazingly unappealing. I thought of Mean Girls a lot with this book, and I think that Mean Girls works because we enter the scenario with a sympathetic character – Cady. Chelsea’s not sympathetic. Frankly I couldn’t have cared less if she spoke or not for the first part of this book, because of what she’d done.
That’s hard to come back from, setting your character off by having her do a resolutely hideous thing and expecting the reader to care about her journey from that point, but strangely enough Harrington manages it. And I think a lot of that’s because, when Chelsea shuts up, she starts to discover the cool people around her – and see the value in them. Her new group are really lovely; cool, funny and quirky.
Ultimately Speechless turned out to be a bit of a cool book, likeable, self-reflective and very sardonic at points. I liked where it ended up, and how it got there. In a way I think Harrington writes very, very realistically and doesn’t sugarcoat the negative side of her characters. And by getting inside Chelsea’s head, we see how she grows but every now and then a little aside makes you remember the girl she was. I found her resolutely unlikeable for a substantial part of this book and yet I still, sort of, liked her.
What is excellent about this edition is the question and answer sessions at the end. These open the book out into a discussion upon the question of bullying, homophobic bullying and the impact of words. This is a really useful and brilliant thing to have in the book, and it’s one that I applaud wholeheartedly. There’s also an interview with Harrington about how and why she wrote the book, and this is again something that could definitely be used to incite discussion.
So, to sum up, you’ll love this or you’ll hate this depending on how you see Chelsea and how you view what she did. But you’ll definitely keep reading, and that’s a good thing. There’s a lot in this to take away and to talk about.