Speechless


Publication Date: 16 Jun. 2021
Format: Paperback / softback

ISBN 9781536219012

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    As if being stuffed into last year's dress pants at his cousin's wake weren't uncomfortable enough, 13-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin who ruined everything? He can't recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn't result in injury or destruction.

    As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it's not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it's not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.

    Information

    Book Type: Junior High
    Age Group: 12 years +
    Traffic Lights: Green/Amber
    Class Novel: Yes
    Good Reads Rating: 4/5
    Literary Rating: 4/5

    Review

    Jimmy has no idea what to do at a funeral--any funeral--but his cousin Patrick's brings additional confusion. Standing there in too-tight pants and surrounded by awkward adults, he can't help remembering how he found Patrick terrible to be around, especially as he always seemed to ruin family events. To make matters worse, Jimmy's mother tells him in no uncertain terms that he has to give the eulogy. He has no idea what to say.

    As the story unfolds, the wake and the service progresses, culminating in Jimmy's eulogy. Throughout, Jimmy reflects on his memories of Patrick in a series of flashbacks. The temper tantrum Patrick threw at Jimmy's birthday party ended in Patrick's sister Sophia hitting her head and losing 90% of her hearing. Patrick's anger at losing an engineering competition got them both kicked out of the club. Patrick forced Sophia to stand up to ableist bullies, and then physically attacked them. Jimmy can't think of a single nice thing to say about his cousin. Then Jimmy realises another pattern is emerging: . Patrick was consistently railing against unfairness and injustice, and the adults around him--enforcing rules of propriety that he didn't understand--belittled and punished him for it.

    When Jimmy stands to say the eulogy, he decides to tell the truth. Patrick wasn't nice or easy to be around, but everyone could see he was struggling, and no-one did anything to help. There was a reason he froze to death while ice-skating alone at night, and it was because he didn't want to be at home. He was kind to Sophia in a way no-one else was, because he took the time to see that she was struggling too.

    By turns funny and heartbreaking, this is a relatively simple narrative that examines the complex feelings we can have about family members who have passed away. It's also a call to action to stand up against unfairness and to help others. Patrick's undiagnosed neurodivergence and behavioural issues meant that he was constantly railing against a world that wasn't built for him, and punished by the adults who could have helped him. Jimmy's irreverent internal monologue and his confusion at the strange antics of his family members add dark humour to the story. Overall, this is a challenging, eye-opening and worthwhile read.

    Themes

    "problem children" and behavioural disorders, disability, neurodivergence, intellectual disability, Deafness, grief, family, injustice, helping others, responsibility, listening to people, flashbacks, non-linear narrative, funerals, loss

    Content Notes

    1. Discussions of death and grief throughout. 2. Flashbacks: Patrick's father dislocating his elbow by grabbing him too hard (p. 95). Patrick hits a girl with glass bottle and knocks her out (p. 157). Patrick shoves a teacher and is shoved back (p. 203). Jimmy's mother slaps him (p. 238). Jimmy think Patrick might have been suicidal, but this is never confirmed (p. 237, 231). Jimmy's mother tells him that his grandfather committed suicide (p. 257-260). 2. Adults drink alcohol (p. 95, 162, 174). 3. Ableism, such as Sophia's parents refusing to learn sign language, also expressed throughout.

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