Rating: 4/5 stars.
If books could reproduce – don’t ask me for visuals – Speechless by Hannah Harrington would be the child of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson and Before I Fall by Lauren Oliver. All three are YA, contemporary books I would love to just shove at my future students and force them to read.
Chelsea Knot can’t keep a secret. She’s one of those girls. If you’ve read any young-adult realistic fiction or if you’ve watched Mean Girls, you know the archetype I’m talking about. The totally selfish, totally conceited, totally all-I-care-about-is-my-popularity girl who gossips about everyone and cares about no one. In this case our protagonist Chelsea is second-in-command to her best friend and utter b-word Kristen. But when Chelsea blabs at a party and almost ends someone’s life, her sheltered existence comes crashing down. She decides to take a vow of silence – but even with that, can she bring herself to forgive, to face the truth, and finally, to somehow speak up for herself?
All of the wonderful YA reviewers on Goodreads have already got this book covered, but one of its best aspects for me was Chelsea’s voice. Not her literal voice, obviously, but just how real and smooth she felt as a protagonist. Harrington knew when to incorporate exaggerations (like, oh my gosh, I want to push Kristen into a pit of sharks), cursing, little bits of colloquialisms, etc. It never felt like she was recreating a teen perspective, rather, she herself was the teen perspective, through Chelsea.
While Speechless contains several subjects pertinent to high school – popularity, relationships, bullying, and more – its strongest theme was that of forgiveness. Harrington stated in an interview that she originally titled the book The Redemption of Chelsea Knot and I can completely see why. This book exemplifies that with the right people and the right mindset, you can plow through all the obstacles life puts in your way and make yourself more than just your previous mistakes.
I also loved how Harrington handled LGBTQ topics without getting preachy or pedantic. My two favorite scenes in the book both involved Chelsea interacting with either Noah or Adam, but at the same time, Harrington kept the spotlight on Chelsea, as well as her other finely-developed friends, Asha and Sam. After all, it was Chelsea’s story, and she owned it.
I would highly recommend this book to fans of young-adult contemporary fiction, as well as those just searching for a refreshing read. While it’s not exactly an emotional powerhouse or a book that will 100% make you reach for the tissue box, its characters and themes deliver the goods. I cannot wait to read Harrington’s debut, Saving June.