What I Didn’t Say by Keary Taylor
Publication Date: April 30, 2012
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: underage drinking, small town, romance, high school graduation
Format read: ARC from NetGalley.
Summary: Before Jake can even toss his graduation cap in the air, his present and future are irreversibly affected when he makes the decision to drink at a party and then drive with friends who had been drinking and doing drugs. Cue. Car accident. T-pipe to throat. No longer being able to speak.
I don’t want this to sound like a PSA for underage drinking. We’ve heard all of this before. And so has Jake. He’s just your average guy who makes one mistake and affects the lives of many. He’s not unaware of his actions and the havoc they caused. Of course, he’s devasted. The money he’s costing his parents (who have seven children), his future plans are now impossible, he can’t play school sports anymore, he can only communicate to friends and family with a notebook, and everyone is always staring at him. Not the life he is used to for sure.
What I liked most about this book was the community. It was a small town full of supportive people, who even decided to make personal pledges to stop drinking for the remainder of the year because of the car accident. Jake’s family is the crowd that everyone wants to hang out with; they are always inviting and loving and helping others out. But there were so many times where I wished the family was more like the Garrett’s in Huntley Fitzpatrick’s My Life Next Door where we could truly get a handle on everyone’s personalities even if we met them in only a few fleeting moments.
Then there is Samantha, the girl that Jake has loved for a long time. Though they seemed to miss their chance of getting together in the past year, he still can’t get her out of his mind. But Samantha has grown distant and he doesn’t know what to do about that. He desperately wants to tell her how he feels, especially after the accident, when the two are paired in a sign language “class”. Sure, this was a little coincidental but I didn’t care what force brought them together. I wanted to see what could grow between them. Samantha has some mystery about her, and Jake is struggling to come to terms with his inability to speak. And really struggling… he’s positive one moment and down the next and I appreciated Taylor presenting this see-saw of emotions because there is no way someone could go through something this tramatic and be on a straight path to happiness.
While I enjoyed Jake and Samantha’s sweet love story, I do wonder if the story would have stayed more grounded if Samantha’s life did not deal with such extreme issues. Did all of this weigh down the story? Sometimes. Was it an over-the-top way to teach Jake to appreciate his life? And could it have been done in a quieter, less hectic manner? I think so. Jake was never depicted as this ungrateful, big-man-on-campus/football-player type. He was a typical teenager who had something bad happen to him. Post-accident, I believe his true challenge was not getting dragged down by his disability and instead embracing it the best he could.
In general, Taylor took her own personal story and created a very original premise in What I Didn’t Say. Still, a fine read could have been bought to a whole new level by introducing a blanket of over-looked details (Jake’s family embracing sign language, what Jake was actually going to study in college the following here, etc.). Even though the novel lacks in development and unique voice in some areas, What I Didn’t Say is a fast-paced read, well worth your time that truly encompasses the unsure time between senior year of high school and the rest of your life, amplified by a million.
Need more convincing?
> Melissa, I Swim for Oceans: “Most of all though, when you strip away the pretty words, we’re given two very basic characters who find the most pure and powerful connection of all.”
> Eva, The Book Stoner: “The novel offers something new because of Taylor’s fresh approach and the unique plots and twists.”