Chelsea Knot is the sort of girl you really would not want to be friends with: mean, judgemental and shallow. She is not used to keeping secrets, but it serves her well as the best friend of the most popular girl in school, Kristen Courteau, until one night at a party, she reveals a secret that leaves one boy in hospital. Chelsea decides she’s done with talking and takes a vow of silence, which, as you can imagine, is not well-received by her obnoxious friends. It’s time to make some new ones, but Chelsea is not going to get away with it that easily.
It took me a little while to get into Speechless. I never used to read YA contemporary and I mentioned in an older review that I thought TV did it better. I think this is because with other genres like dystopia, science fiction or horror, the age of the protagonist matters much less – they could be 16, 18 or 20 (or older, I like to think!) – because they’re much too busy tracking down loved ones kidnapped by angels, trying to survive the end of the world or battling robots in virtual spaces. Or the story takes place in the holidays and they’re off solving murders, having a summer romance or a road trip across the USA. But school settings? And not even an awesome boarding school? That’s different.
Chelsea Knot is an unlikeable character – there’s no doubt about it – so when her old friends begin turning on her, it’s hard to feel like she doesn’t deserve it. But ‘speechless’ Chelsea is much preferable to ‘gossipy’ Chelsea. We get to see the ‘other’ side of her – not just the side she shows everybody else. It’s probably no surprise that Chelsea changes throughout the book, but Speechless is authentic. Chelsea’s attitude does not alter instantly nor does she start to treat everybody equally or nicely just because she now understands what it’s like to be treated badly. Her transformation is a result of having to make difficult choices and so it takes time for her to be the person she truly feels comfortable as.
Speechless is a much harsher story than I thought it was going to be. It’s a story of how bullying is often seen as trivial because ‘everybody has been bullied’ and how it can take many forms, from verbal to physical, and how each can be equally devastating and harmful. It’s about how words, and how you use them, matter. And how forgiveness can feel impossible. Because of this, I felt like Noah Beckett’s character was the least authentic, for reasons you may see at the end of the book, but perhaps I am just cynical.
Speechless has many unlikable characters, yet it’s not full of them. Sam is a wonderful character and a favourite of mine. He’s not perfect, but very likeable. He makes the best tuna melts and will happily show you how to make them too, he’ll stick up for you without assuming you need him to. He is considerate and will always put his friends first. In a way, he’s the opposite to Chelsea, and the way they interact and attempt to understand each other was enjoyable to read.
Do I still believe that TV does YA contemporary best? Definitely not. I’ve read some wonderful contemporaries since and I would add Speechless to that list. If you want to understand the impenetrable mind of a sixteen-year-old girl, this may help you a little on your way.
Published: 28th August 2012 (US) 1st February 2013 (UK)
Publisher: Harlequin Teen (US) Mira Ink (UK)
Source: Thank you Harlequin Teen for providing this book to review!
If you liked: Saving June