Author: Hannah Harrington
Allow me to start by saying that this book grabbed me, and it held on so tight that when I stopped reading and put it down I would have to consciously think the first time someone spoke to me. I would have to do a speedy internal debrief and tell myself that it wasn’t me undertaking a vow of silence and I could answer. Now I don’t know if that’s just me being a bit off the planet of late or if it really is that Hannah Harrington had that profound an effect on me.
Speechless is the story of one teenage girls journey to self-awareness. One night that changes everything and seems to ruin it all sets her on a path of self discovery, because when you lose it all you have to start again and that often offers a clean slate; a new point to define yourself by which can sometimes be a very good thing.
Chelsea Knot is our heroine, except there are times she also plays the villain, the victim and the defender. Regardless of the part she plays she is realistic, well written and garners our sympathy and support. She begins the tale quite a shallow little shadow, a real yes-girl to her best friend, the most popular girl in their year. It’s all about being in the circle, having the radiance of popularity shine a light over you too; even if only because of your proximity. It’s about being who you need to be to remain in that circle, not the greatest of aspirations but who as a teen didn’t want to be in the ‘in’ crowd – at least briefly.
There was nothing Chelsea loved more than a good gossip, finding out everyone’s secrets and using them to her advantage – or Kristen’s advantage anyway – and she wasn’t above being underhanded to get the information. Clearly Chelsea was never going to be ANYONE’s first choice to share a big secret with because everyone knew she couldn’t keep her mouth shut.
New Year’s Eve and Kristen’s parents are out of the picture so it’s party time at her house. Chelsea is less than honest with her parents about her plans for the evening but she is where she said she’d be, though far from doing what she should. Underage drinking, drugs and fooling around are the order of the night; as they always are at a teen party with the popular kids. Chelsea has a few too many jello shots (this is what really jumped out of the page as a massive Americanism but there are a few others) and is far from clear-headed. This is where the night takes a sinister turn and we start to see what the characters are really made of.
All of the characters are plausible and there are some very important issues raised, I love the way Harrington handled them. Too much about that is going to mean inserting spoilers which is something I would prefer to avoid. Let’s just say that the issues are relevant and can be related to by people all over the world – anyone who has ever been to high school would be able to find something to relate to in this story.
Chelsea is the character who really resonated with me. She gets drunk and does something dumb – something that on reflection she probably would never have done had she been even a little more sober. Hands up who can say they have NEVER done that…. no, I didn’t think so. I couldn’t even fathom a guess as to how many times I have been guilty of that.
In the cold light of day reality sets in and the entire sequence of events falls into place and Chelsea has to take a serious look at herself and where she goes from here, that look results in her taking a vow of silence so that her words can no longer hurt those around her.
It may seem a rather drastic solution but we are given all of Chelsea’s motivations and then travel through the next month with her as she grows accustomed to non verbal communication and takes the quiet time in her head to start evaluating herself, and her sense of self.
The most powerful lessons are the ones we teach ourselves, and that is something Chelsea demonstrates to us beautifully.
There is so much more I could say about this touching story, the issues it raises, the characters I have just spent this time with, how I felt about all of it but I really don’t know that I can express all of what I took out of it.
There is great courage in choosing the right path when it is far from the easy path, and making that path even more difficult to follow by making yourself a target. And often the difficult path will teach you the most about who you are, that journey to enlightenment is a testament to character – especially with the limitations Chelsea placed on herself.
A young adult book with it’s feet planted firmly on the ground, I am glad I allowed it to queue jump a little. I loved it.