Sunday, December 30, 2012


Speechless, by Hannah Harrington, was a nice surprise. I thought the premise was interesting when I originally got ahold of the book, but then I wasn't sure it could keep my attention. Happily, it ended up being a pretty fast read, which I needed as I neared the end of the year and tried to cram in the last of 50 books.

Speechless is about a girl who can't keep her mouth shut. She's a gossip, popular only because of her best friend. But when Chelsea's mouth is instrumental in nearly destroying the lives of several of her peers, she suddenly finds herself in a dark place. Not only are all her old friends her enemies, but Chelsea herself isn't so sure she likes the person she's become. So, ashamed by what she's done, she takes a vow of silence. Her old friends take it as an opportunity to rub her face in the mud without impunity, but she finds some surprising new allies, including an unexpected romance. When she speaks again, it has to mean something, but will she ever be able to pay for the harm she's done?

The book has a strong message with even a study guide included, but it mostly pulls it off well, meaning it's an enjoyable read and not so pushy it will turn readers off. On the other hand, from a Christian perspective, I do not totally agree with it. (Spoiler Alert!) The book, while secondarily being about gossip, is essentially about gay rights. Now, while I don't think a gay person is any less of a person than anyone else, on this blog I have clearly delineated my views on sexual content in books and movies. I don't think sex outside of marriage is right, and so I don't agree with the book's emphasis that there's nothing wrong with two young gay lovers. I wouldn't agree if they were straight either. This is my main problem with the book: it's acceptance of teenage sex. I totally realize it's a part of our world now, but that doesn't mean I agree with it or that I want to read about it outside of the context of addressing it as a problem. Now, I do agree with the book's stance on treating all humans as equals, just to be clear.

There is one other minor point on which I disagree with the book that I think is worth mentioning. Chelsea basically punishes herself for her sin, and even her new friends aren't willing to forgive her without seeing proof of her change. That's just not in line with my Christian worldview. Christians are supposed to forgive no matter what the other person does, even if that other person isn't repentant. That doesn't mean I would try to be friends with a dangerous lawbreaker (sins do have consequences, after all), but it would be my responsibility not to judge that person personally, even if the sin was committed against me.

I also need to nitpick one little point with the book that doesn't have to do with beliefs. It's just about something in the plot itself, the justification the author has for Chelsea to begin speaking again. Actually, the reason Chelsea begins speaking again is fine; I just don't entirely like the way the author has her do it. I guess it's realistic, but it feels like something is missing. It doesn't feel big enough. It's enough reason for Chelsea to start speaking again, yes, but at the same time, I feel like there needs to be something more, a weightier reason, a little more significance somewhere. When Chelsea speaks again, the reader doesn't quite believe she hasn't been speaking for a long time. She doesn't have quite as much hesitation as you'd expect. The silence doesn't seem to have changed her in any significant way. Don't get me wrong, she is changed, just not necessarily by her silence. I guess I wanted her words to be more significant, to mean something more, to be chosen more carefully. Instead the author almost purposefully makes her new words be nothing special. Chelsea herself expects to say more brilliant things, and she doesn't. It just felt odd to me. It cheapened Chelsea's experience for me (cheapened my connection and identification with her experience, that is).

But aside from what I felt was a somewhat unfocused and slightly less meaningful ending than it should have been, I mostly liked what the book had to say and how it said it. I thought the characters were extremely well-done. I wanted to know Chelsea's new friends myself! Chelsea herself is not a nice character when the book starts, obviously, but she grows as a character and grows on the reader. Overall, the book is an enjoyable, thought-provoking, three-star read with a relevant message for our culture. I'd read more Hannah Harrington.

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