Tuesday, August 5, 2014

Say What You Will

Amy has been going to school with the same people since she started, but very few people really know her. She has a severe case of cerebral palsy, meaning she can't walk without a walker, speak without a computer, or control her gestures or facial expressions. Adult aides have also helped her in her classes. To make more friends, she decided to employ people her own age in order to prepare for college and become more socialized. Enter Matthew, a sweet boy with obsessive compulsive disorder. He can't go a few hours without counting or tapping things, washing his hands over and over, fear of dirt or germs, and the irrational fear that something he does or doesn't do will inadvertently hurt someone. They become good friends when he works as her aide because he treats her like a real person and doesn't sugarcoat things. Their relationship eventually blossoms into something wholly unexpected.

Right off the bat, Say What You Will was a surprise because Amy's cerebral palsy, a central part of the novel, is omitted from the back cover. I'm not sure why this choice was made because I would definitely been more excited to read it had they included this aspect in the description. Her disability is severe and described accurately without glossing over things. There is no way for her to communicate without outward help: she can't speak or control her gestures or facial expressions. Despite her appearance and her nonverbal state, Amy is very intelligent and excels in school. She has never had any friends her own age, so she's very naive and doesn't know how to deal with people well. Her relationship with Matthew has a lot of extreme highs and lows due to miscommunication and the fact that neither of them has had a very close friend. He's the first person who isn't afraid to tell her the truth and refuses to treat her differently. I loved Amy for her honesty. She told things like they were and held realistic views. The lows she experienced were devastating because it's her first time experiencing rejection or being used or anything involving friends or boyfriends. Her depression and loneliness were written incredibly well and

Matthew was also a compelling and fully realized character. While he looks like a normal kid, he has debilitating obsessive compulsive disorder that isolates him and takes up much of his time. He's in denial about how severe it is despite the fact that it's very noticeable to everyone around him. Because of it, he avoids people, consumed with the irrational fears and compulsions in his mind. Although his issues are less obvious than Amy's, the effect is the same. They help each other out in a lot of ways and the relationship changes both of them dramatically. Most notably, Amy gives Matthew assignments to confront his OCD and he eventually gets professional help as a result. He is fragile in his own way and like Amy, the bad parts of the relationship are felt more keenly. Although their relationship never quite progresses to a full blown romance, their interactions are very sweet and I felt for them.

Although I thoroughly enjoyed the story, some parts of it were bothersome. Amy and Matthew would go months without speaking after a fight at least 3 times during the novel. The same situation repeated and the characters learned nothing from it apparently when they regretted it each time. Amy was very analytical in her approach to things, sometimes too much so. She makes the most insensitive decisions sometimes and it's frustrating. The whole third act of the book is very unexpected and I understand why it's there, but I didn't like it. I felt it was sort of preachy and the narrative didn't go into the issues I felt were necessary involving the subject when teens are the target audience.

Say What You Will is a thought provoking novel that deals with disabilities, both those that are easily recognized and those that aren't. It shows that these people are just like any person and they don't deserve to be treated like their fragile or incompetent. I particularly enjoyed the different modes of communication shown: e-mails, instant messages, unsent e-mails, etc. I will definitely keep an eye out for other books by Cammie McGovern.

My rating: 4/5 fishmuffins

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