I’m always drawn to stories about overcoming physical disabilities, and Taylor’s premise is one I hadn’t come across before, particularly in the young adult genre. How devastating a blow to lose the power of speech at the brink of adulthood, when ideas are bright and brimming to be expressed. While I love to read from the teenage male perspective, too often in contemporary stories the narrative voice is filled with so much cultivated bravado that it makes it difficult for me to like the protagonist. I’m sure that the cliché of a teenage male whose main pastimes include swearing, drinking, drugs, sex, and sports is an accurate description of at least some members of the male populace, but it’s hardly representative of most. Jake was a welcome change from the typical, providing a glimpse into the mind of a young man refreshingly well-adjusted and exceedingly normal. Some might read this as boring, but I felt it much more honest and was immediately drawn into Jake’s struggles in the aftermath of his accident.
While a well-tempered male teenager might be a rarity in young adult literature, one
who bears a heartbreaking loss such as Jake’s could understandably be forgiven for sullenness and histrionics. The fact that Jake essentially remains himself throughout his adjustment to life without a voice is laudable. He recognizes early on that he can take on of two roads, and thereby relinquishes the temptation of feeling sorry for himself. Even so, one can’t escape such a life-altering event emotionally unscathed, and while Taylor delves a little bit into Jake’s grief and frustration, I would have loved for her to explore Jake’s emotional development more.
I would have forgiven Taylor for neglecting Jake’s problems had she given him a decent romance in exchange, but unfortunately a formerly three-cup book went downhill with the introduction of Samantha. Jake assures readers that he has been in love with Samantha for years due to her innate goodness and kindness, yet all Taylor shows us is an abusive girlfriend on the brink of a breakdown. She lambasts Jake for being self-absorbed and failing to look on the bright side just a few weeks after his accident, despite the commendable attitude he has shown thus far. While I realize that the plight of many children faced with losing a parent and entering the foster system is a very real concern, it’s not the issue I wanted to explore in this novel, yet before the midway point all the focus shifts to Sam’s troubles. What’s more, Taylor approaches this topic in the most clichéd manner possible: teenagers keeping the situation secret, a drunken father magically reappearing in the picture, a vindictive girl blowing the Sam’s cover. These things might often happen, but they don’t make for a good story.
One thing I did like about the story was its structure. Too often, stories told with a nonlinear narrative sacrifice comprehension for style, yet Taylor’s use of the device enhances Jake’s story. The unique chapter headings she gives to approximate time are creative and easily place readers within the timeline of the story. Unfortunately, these, too, become somewhat redundant when the story switches focus to Sam, and so lose most of their impact.
Had Taylor kept the focus of the story on Jake, as the description promised, this would have been a solid addition to young adult contemporary. Instead, Jake’s personal growth is trivialized as we are forced to sympathize not with him, but with his wholly unlikeable girlfriend. I had hoped for better for Jake, as he is one of the best male narrators I’ve come across in the genre lately, but I don’t feel he gets nearly what he deserves.