by Hannah Harrington
I was not going to read this book. I promise you, I was not. I was so fully aware of my (standing) disappointment with Harrington’s debut Saving June, and was certain I had a firm grasp of her writing style that I had prematurely made up my mind.
Well. Sometimes people act like snobs, okay. It’s not a crime. It just makes you highly unlikeable as a human being.
Anyway. I requested this on NetGalley and as fate would have it, I got approved. It was there for my taking. And then all these reviews were popping up, giving Speechless four stars, five stars! Scoff, I say! But. But they’re not entirely, completely, like totally wrong, like they’re kind of right because it’s really not that bad omg I’m giving this four stars!
I really, really liked Speechless. Harrington’s growth as a writer is monumental. One aspect I absolutely did not enjoy in Saving June was the constant, irrepressible presence of the writer. I could only hear her, instead of her characters. Which would’ve been fine, if it were a memoir. Here, Harrington’s commentaries are alive and well, but are much more digestably subtle. She covers a vast ground of topics from typical teenage woes, to much more serious issues plaguing pop culture.
The way that she’s done it this time is effective — allowing us entry through a single perspective, Chelsea. In Saving June, multiple characters tackled specific opinions and it became too much, too tedious. Now, we see everything through one character…whose voice is so perfectly captured, it was ridiculously readable. Here is the biggest contradiction of all. In Saving June, my entire review hung on my aversive attitude towards first-person narrative. Oh, but not here. I could read Chelsea all day. And I did. Her voice is young yet contemplative, privately honest, genuinely snarky, brutally fierce. I loved her. She admitted and accepted about herself so many things that go through our own heads on a daily basis.
She makes no excuse. She is sometimes selfish, sometimes generous. Sometimes emo, sometimes compassionate. Sometimes dense, sometimes perceptive. Sometimes dull, sometimes cool. Sometimes rude, sometimes kind. Sometimes skeptical, sometimes optimistic, sometimes weak, sometimes strong. And more. Chelsea was unlikeable in the beginning, but darn did she grow on me. She isn’t a bitch. Rather, an energy misguided. She has bite but she doesn’t know where to aim. She is a genuine outspoken, stand-up-for-herself, no-bullshit kinda gal. Not Harrington’s version of sweet, innocent female protagonists who “don’t believe in themselves” until a gorgeous young boy swoops in and convinces them otherwise. Chelsea knows she’s got stuff going for her. But thankfully, her ego isn’t so big as to stunt character growth.
Now, the secondary characters. I loved Sam, Asha and the whole gang. But I’d hoped we’d have gotten more insight into them than we did. We know close to nothing about Sam and Asha’s personal lives. Did Sam have other friends? Does he have siblings? Why is he so darn cute and nice? How does Asha feel when racial jokes are thrown at her expense? How does she handle being called a freak? How does she see the good when there is so much bad? These characters were wonderful to have in the scene but I almost wanted to follow them on when they walked out. How did they get to be how they are? One exception, though, is Andy. One particular scene with Chelsea coloured his entire being all shades of beautiful. It was lovely.
Kristen, on the other hand, I was glad not to have had more out of. Why? Because that’s the point, I think. She’s not supposed to grow. She is the foil to Chelsea. Kristen is a tragic character because while she knows the truth about herself, as Chelsea accepts the truth about herself, Kristen isn’t strong enough to brave it out like Chelsea is. She denies herself freedom. Chelsea unleashes herself from chains. That’s the difference.
This was a surprise. A surprise I couldn’t get my hands off of, according to Goodreads, from August 13-16. Those were great days…yea.
Rated 4 out of 5 stars
This review also appears on Goodreads. An advance copy was provided by the publisher.
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