________________ CM . . . . Volume XIV Number 4 . . . . October 12, 2007

cover

Speechless.

Valerie Sherrard.
Toronto, ON: Boardwalk Book/Dundurn Press, 2007.
172 pp., pbk., $12.99.
ISBN 978-1-55002-701-3.

Subject Heading:
Public speaking-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 5-10 / Ages 10-15.

Review by Diana Lynn Wilkes.

**** /4

excerpts:

"What's wrong with you?"

I glanced up to see Nicole staring at me. It surprised me because I hadn't done anything - not really - and yet she'd somehow picked up that something was different.

I shook my head while I chewed. Nicole frowned. She was about to say something else when Mom cut in.

"Griffin has taken a vow of silence," Mom told her. "For child soldiers in Africa."

I barely managed to stop myself from correcting her by saying, "It's a protest, Mom."

"He is so weird," Nicole said. "He's not doing it outside the house though, right? I mean, you're not letting him carry on like this at school."

"Well, I, uh .," Mom glanced at me like I might speak up and answer for her.

"You don't even go to the same school," Dad pointed out.

"No, they're only right next to each other, and anyway, word gets around. I will be so humiliated if people hear about my brother doing something this ridiculous!" Nicole stood up and came over to my side, standing practically on top of me and leaning down. Her face was almost touching mine.

"You pull this stunt at school and you will be so sorry," she said. Then she stomped out of the room.

Her threat hung there, making my stomach kind of squeeze tight. It was just as well that I didn't know an irate sister would be the least of my worries at school. (Pp. 24-25)

...

"Hey, it's cool," he said, "there's no one else here. You can go ahead and talk."
I managed to get out something that sounded like "Oi!" but that was it. Then I flapped my mouth a couple more times. Not a sound. "What is the matter with you?" he asked.

I frowned and raised my eyebrows questioningly and pointed to my throat.

Bryan stared for a minute, but he got the message. Then he was quiet for a bit, thinking it through. It didn't take him long to come up with an idea.

"Must be like, psychosomatic," he said, nodding wisely. "Probably your conscience is bugging you. You know, because you're being, like, a total fraud."

I must not have looked too pleased at that because he hastened to add, "Not that that's a bad thing. I mean, you're just doing what you have to do. But your head might be messing with your voice.

"I ripped a sheet of paper out of a binder from my backpack and wrote, "How long can this psycho stuff last?"

"I dunno. Maybe a few days," he said "I think for it to be longer-like years or something-you'd probably have to be a lot more complex than you are. I mean, face it, Griff, you're not that deep. Besides, a thing like this would hardly ever be permanent."

That was when I put my hand up to stop him before he could say anything else to make me feel better. (Pp. 66-67)

 

Who doesn't get nervous even thinking about public speaking? When you're a quiet boy in junior high, it can be downright terrifying and something to avoid by whatever means possible. This time Griffin thinks he's found the perfect solution, but he could never predict how it will change his world.

     After last year's disastrous speech in which his mom "helped" by suggesting the embarrassing theme of "Men are from Mars and Women are from Venus," he just can't face this English assignment again. With the help of his brainy friend Bryan, Griffin decides to become speechless under protest. Quite randomly through internet searches, the boys choose the issue of child soldiers in Africa as a good enough reason for Griffin to cease speaking - to anyone. However, Griffin isn't prepared for how his idea is received at home and at school, how being silent changes his perceptions, nor how swept up in the actual cause he will become. What starts out as a fraud and avoidance tactic becomes a passion and the beginning of true social activism.

     This novel is funny, informative and touching. The life of the awkward and shy adolescent boy is well presented both with his family relationships as well as with friends, bullies, and teachers at school. The reader is able to identify with Griffin and both empathize with the situation he is in and admire his subsequent actions.

     Cleverly disguising Speechless as a typical adolescent 'struggle' story, Valerie Sherrard has written an empowering novel about social responsibility. The novel shows how ordinary kids (even without the best of intentions, initially) can choose to do extra-ordinary things. One person can make a difference by speaking out-even when he's “speechless.”

Highly Recommended.

Diana Lynn Wilkes, who has taught Kindergarten to grade 10, is an English major with a Bachelor of Education from Simon Fraser University, and she also holds a Master of Arts Degree in Children's Literature from the University of British Columbia.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

Copyright the Manitoba Library Association. Reproduction for personal use is permitted only if this copyright notice is maintained. Any other reproduction is prohibited without permission.

Published by
The Manitoba Library Association
ISSN 1201-9364
Hosted by the University of Manitoba.
 

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