The Things I Didn’t Say is a poignant and heartwarming novel, written by Kylie Fornasier.
After losing her best friend that night, Piper Rhodes changes schools, determined that her final year will be different. She will be different.
Then she meets West: school captain, star soccer player, the boy everyone talks about. Despite her fear of losing everything all over again, Piper fall in love – and West with her – without ever speaking one word to him. But can a love between a girl who can’t talk and a boy that everyone talks to really last?
This book sounded good when I first heard about it, but I quickly realised that ‘good’ didn’t even begin to cover it. I completely devoured this heartwarming, touching novel and honestly, I’m getting all the feels back just thinking about it. I thought it would be easy to explain my love for this book in words because it was words that made me feel this way in the first place, but I’m no Kylie Fornasier. I can only hope that this review will prompt you to pick up a copy of this gorgeous book because I genuinely want you to feel everything I felt while reading The Things I Didn’t Say.
I’ve read a couple of books about Selective Mutism, most recently Thanks for the Trouble by Tommy Wallach. Until this year, I hadn’t read any YA fiction about Selective Mutism, and I’m just about to pick up another novel that revolves around similar issues. I think it’s amazing that authors are starting to tackle such a complex issue in their writing and are able to weave it into the story without it seeming like it’s just a story about Selective Mutism, because it’s not. The Things I Didn’t Say is so much more than that. Yes, our protagonist has Selective Mutism, but that wasn’t her defining factor and neither is it for the novel.
So obviously, while this book shouldn’t be defined by how it’s protagonist has Selective Mutism, I still think it’s something we should talk about. Even though this isn’t the first novel I’ve read about this issue, it allowed me to gain a deeper insight into what it actually is and how it affects the person with it. While Thanks for the Trouble also dealt with similar issues, I felt like our protagonist there did speak, in a way, because of how he wrote things down and it didn’t play that much of a role in his life. I’m not belittling his problems or anything, that’s just how his character was portrayed in that novel.
However, in The Things I Didn’t Say, Piper’s Selective Mutism played a much greater role in her life. We could feel her frustration at not being able to talk to some people and throughout the novel, we gained a huge insight into how she was labeled with this illness and how that impacted her life. I felt that this novel enabled me to understand what it really means to live with such an illness – one that shouldn’t be taken lightly or dismissed – and showed me what people living with this have to deal with on a daily basis. It also highlighted the fact that sometimes Selective Mutism is caused from a traumatic event, and other times it’s not. Sometimes it’s just a part of a person, but that doesn’t mean that the person living with Selective Mutism is just a Selective Mute. I think that Kylie Fornasier was really adept in reiterating that we are not our illness.
To me, Piper was honestly the best protagonist we could have wished for. Her strength and determination to do the things she wanted to do and be the person she wanted to be despite her illness was quite remarkable, and so too was her growth throughout the novel. She was articulate in her own ways and was able to warmly welcome us into her life. I think that something which worked really well for her was the way in which she helped us understand what Selective Mutism is. Kylie Fornasier could have easily glossed over the gritty details, but her courage in writing about such a complex and sensitive issue should be commended. Kylie, through Piper, explained this illness to us in a way that helped us understand what she was dealing with in a way that didn’t make us pity her or feel sorry for her, but in a way that allowed us to admire her for her strength and respect her for her determination.
The growth in Piper was one of the most beautiful things about this novel. We were first introduced to a girl who seemed desperate to live her life despite her illness and try and work around it and while she was tired of people misunderstanding what she was going through, she wanted to start the year differently. However, throughout the course of this novel, she realised that she had to embrace her illness and tackle it head-on instead of brushing it away in order to change. Not only did Piper learn that in order to move forward, you have to embrace yourself for who you are, even the parts of yourself you don’t like, but I learnt that too. Through Piper’s experiences and revelations, we as readers were able to see that true strength comes from seeing yourself as a whole person, not just bits and pieces, and recognising that you are worthy of love and respect and being the person you want to be, not just what others expect of you.
But we didn’t just see how Piper was affected by her Selective Mutism in this novel. We were able to see how her family and friends were impacted too. It was heartwarming to see how so many people understood Piper’s situation, but perhaps the best thing about their understanding was that they knew they didn’t have to give Piper special treatment. Of course they understood when she would be able to talk and when she might not be able to, but they recognised that she was a capable person who was able to live her life according to how she wanted to and that things didn’t have to be changed to make things easier for her. A lot of situations were a battle for Piper, but her determination to not give up showed us that she didn’t need to be babied or treated differently. Piper could have easily have become a recluse or wore a badge declaring her illness, but she didn’t. Her strength to encounter uncomfortable and frightening situations daily is part of what made her such an admirable person. She understood that she had an illness, but she refused to let it take over her life.
One of the most touching aspects of this novel was seeing how Piper’s younger siblings were affected by her Selective Mutism, particularly Evie. Seeing as she was so young, it was hard for her to fully understand what her older sister was dealing with. There was one point in this novel where my heart just broke for their family because it became so apparent how this illness affects not only Piper, but everyone who cares about her. I think that the way in which West understood Piper’s Selective Mutism was also heartwarming. He supported her and accepted her for who she is and while there were some moments when he said and did some things he later regretted, he always recognised why his behaviour was unacceptable and took the necessary steps to mend his relationship with Piper, realising that her inability to speak to him wasn’t his fault – and it wasn’t Piper’s either.
The relationship between Piper and West was sweet and an honest representation of a high school romance. Their love was slow-burning, which made it feel all the more real, unlike an insta-love would have been. It was beautiful to see their friendship grow into something more and the interactions they had never felt forced or fake. But one of the things I loved most about West was they he wasn’t some prince trying to ‘save her’ or ‘cure her’. He was simply another form of support for Piper outside of her family and while he got a little frustrated at Piper’s lack of ability to talk to him towards the end of the novel, this felt painfully realistic and it was good to see that he wasn’t perfect – that he was simply another person trying to understand Piper and have a meaningful relationship with her.
Another one of my favourite aspects of this novel was Piper’s school assignment to email a ‘tree’ in Melbourne. I loved reading Piper’s emails to her ‘tree’ and it was enjoyable to see her end up in Melbourne at one point. As someone who lives in Melbourne, it was really nice to place Piper in a city I know so well. It turns out that I was actually reading a part of this novel in the State Library of Victoria that was set just outside the State Library – talk about a coincidence! And I also think it’s great that we’re seeing more Aussie YA contemporaries now and I really encourage everyone to go out and buy a copy of this gorgeous book and support our local authors.
Even though the ending of this book made me cry while wearing a smile on my face and I couldn’t have been more happy with the way things turned out, I would have loved another chapter or two. I felt devastated to reach the end of this novel, but it ended on such a beautiful and positive note that I almost forgive it. Almost. I suppose Kylie Fornasier will just have to write another novel for us to fall in love with! Overall, I highly recommend this poignant and moving novel and I’d give The Things I Didn’t Say a score of 10 out of 10.
Let’s talk about your thoughts! Have you had the chance to pick up a copy of this book yet? Are you a fan of Aussie YA fiction? What other #LoveOzYA novels have you read recently? Have you got any similar books to recommend? I’d love to hear your thoughts!
Thank you to Penguin Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!