Speechless by Hannah Harrington
Publication Date: August 28, 2012
Target audience: Mature young adult
Keywords: hate crimes, gossiping and secrets, bullying, vow of silence
Format read: ARC received at ALA.
Summary: After Chelsea lets someone’s secret slip and the person is hospitalized, she takes a vow of silence.
Have you ever told a secret you had no right passing along?
Chelsea is in the business of telling everyone’s secrets. She’s kind of known for it. She sits at the top of the popularity totem pole with her BFF Kristen until she disastrously tells someone’s secret. The person ends up in the hospital, almost dead, and Chelsea is forced to speak up and tell everything she knew that led to the attack. Finally feeling the weight of her gossiping ways, she decides to take a vow of silence so she won’t be able to hurt anyone again. She doesn’t realize how quiet her life will become until she faces the attacks and bullying Kristen and her old crowd are now focusing on her.
I was absolutely blown away by Harrington’s writing in Saving June last year. When I saw Speechless at ALA I was beside myself excited to get to read more of her work. I noted the vow of silence and thought, “Hmm. Definitely haven’t read anything like this before!” This did bring up a few particular concerns, though. For a girl who likes to read dialogue and not chunks of unbroken description, would Harrington’s no-speaking thing intrigue or bore me? And also — what would this resolve?
Never fear, friends. My worries were absolutely unnecessary. Harrington manages to speak volumes without necessitating normal dialogue. Chelsea’s inner dialogue is full of emotion — confusion, anger, hurt, hope. Though she chooses not to speak aloud, she has to find a way to communicate, especially with her teachers at school. Thanks to a dry erase board she’s able to minimally say what she needs to. She learns how to communicate with more than just her words — she lets her emotions show via facial expressions and also drops the act of being just like her ex-BFF Kristen by dressing like she wants to.
As for resolution and what Chelsea would learn through this — let’s just say she had a long way to go for redemption. She was not high on my list of favorite characters in the beginning because she seemed shallow, self-absorbed, above status quo, unfazed by her actions, and ridiculously naive. Her silence was necessary; it provided time for her to reflect on her actions. Chelsea needed to grovel and unfortunately, she learned much from the backlash she received from the popular crowd. Silence teaches Chelsea to experience life differently than she ever has — she’s faced with a new set of acquaintances (some of which despise her because they were best friends with the person who was hurt), occupying her time with school instead of parties and shopping as she used to, and getting a job because she’s got nothing else.
What I love most about Harrington’s writing is her refusal to keep things simple; she took away the speaking ability of her character, but also put her through hell. Chelsea was being bullied and there was a very strong message about hate crimes that stayed at the forefront of my mind the entire time I read Speechless. Harrington spotlights how powerful (or hurtful) the spoken word can be and how easily we take it for granted to gain popularity, how we should be more thoughtful and considerate – weighing our words much more carefully than we do.
In my notes I wrote, “Harrington battles it out for the meanest bullies with Courtney Summers’ Some Girls Are.” If you’re a Courtney Summer’s fan, please allow me to introduce you to Hannah Harrington.
Speechless is an incredibly powerful book and I’m even going to go so far as to say that I enjoyed it even more than Saving June. Harrington’s writing just keeps getting better and better.