Whisper to Me is a remarkable story of strange beauty and self-discovery, written by Nick Lake.
Cassie is writing a letter to the boy whose heart she broke. She’s trying to explain why. Why she pushed him away. Why her father got so angry when he saw them together. Why she disappears some nights. Why she won’t let herself remember what happened that long-ago night on the boardwalk. Why she fell apart so completely.
Desperate for his forgiveness, she’s telling the whole story of the summer she nearly lost herself. She’s hoping he’ll understand as well as she now does how love — love for your family, love for that person who makes your heart beat faster, and love for yourself — can save you after all.
I had absolutely no clue what to expect when I started reading this book. All I knew was that the cover seemed to say ‘cute YA contemporary’ and I thought it was going to be a light read. And boy, was I wrong. But you know, I think that’s the best thing about not knowing much about the books you decide to pick up. I didn’t really have any expectations for this book and so I just went along with the flow and simply allowed the author to take me on a journey, and I ended up absolutely loving it. But before we get any further, there are some things you must know before getting into this spectacular book. It’s not a light read — it’s dark and eerie and will make your heart race. It’s not just another romance — it’s a book about learning to love yourself as much as it is about loving someone else. And it’s not a read-and-forget kind of novel — Whisper to Me will sear itself on your heart and make you want to recommend it to everyone you know.
The formatting of this book is one thing I adored. It really reminded me of the book The Leaving, which was also presented by changing how the words were written or spacing out the words or having breaks in the letters. While the formatting of Whisper to Me is reminiscent of The Leaving, I actually prefer Nick Lake’s take on unique formatting because it actually made sense to what was happening. It’s difficult to explain, so you’ll just have to pick up a copy! Also, Whisper to Me isn’t written as your average narrative. It’s a letter from Cassie trying to explain her actions to a person who remains unknown until you really get into the book. In the first fifty pages or so, until I knew for certain who the letter was addressed to, I loved guessing who it might be for and what exactly Cassie did in order for her to want to be forgiven.
What made this book one that was completely unputdownable was that it’s written in past tense and Cassie acts as the omnipresent narrator, randomly adding her comments to the recipient of the letter or hinting at what the recipient already knew, but was still mysterious to the reader. It was like being given a taste of the ending, but having no clue how the characters got there or what happened in the meantime. I just had to keep reading. Whisper to Me was one of the most addictive books I’ve read all year.
I think the thing I was least expecting from this book was for mental illness to play such a major role. Nick Lake has to be commended for dealing with this subject in such respectful and brutally honest way. He doesn’t try to romanticise it or let falling in love solve all of Cassie’s problems. The way in which Lake wrote about mental illness was honest and real and he didn’t shy away from the scenes that were the most difficult to write. A few scenes were actually quite difficult to read simply because of how realistic everything seemed, and I think that potential readers should take this into consideration because it could be quite triggering for some people. But overall, the mental health aspect of Whisper to Me is very well written and feels extremely researched, and it definitely contributes to making this novel an unforgettable one.
The only thing that disappointed me about this book was its length, and therefore its pacing. It really didn’t need to be 500+ pages, not just because I think that contemporaries generally shouldn’t be this long because of the nature of their content, but also because with Whisper to Me in particular, it felt somewhat unfocused in plot direction. At times it seemed to focus on murder, then it would focus on mental illness, and then it would focus on romance, and then friendship, and then the importance of family… it just felt like this aspect needed tightening. Of course, good contemporaries will usually contain two or more of these themes, but it just felt like this novel was trying to do too much at times. And because of the length of it, sometimes there were big gaps in the action and the pacing was slightly uneven. If Whisper to Me were shortened by around 150 pages and was more focussed on just two themes while the others took more of a backseat for the majority of the novel, it would have felt much improved.
As a book that seems to focus more on the characters than the plot, it seems mandatory that I give them a small mention. Cassie, our protagonist, was one of the most heartbreakingly real and brutally honest characters I’ve been taken on a journey with in a long time. She’s a quiet person who thinks a lot and often says the wrong things, which was a refreshing change from all the characters I’ve been reading about recently. But even though she doesn’t say much, her internal monologue is brilliantly written and perfectly incorporates humour into what could have been just a sombre tale, had it been written in a way that didn’t allow for some moments of wit and the smart, though internal, retorts she made. Paris, Cassie’s friend, Cassie’s dad and the unnamed boy were also other spectacular characters that we got to know throughout the course of the novel. They each had such vibrant and unique personalities and were all dealing with their own issues, which made them so much more than the characters they could have been portrayed as — one-dimensional characters written purely to aid Cassie in her battle with her inner demons. They were all beautiful and alive, and I won’t be forgetting them for a while.
Although this ending might seem a little abrupt for some people, it’s actually one of my favourite aspects of this novel. You see, there’s nothing I despise more than books that have a perfect ending where everything is solved and you know exactly what’s going to happen in the characters lives from then on. While Whisper to Me is vary sparse on giving a lot of answers, I felt that we were given enough of an indication about the most important things that we could formulate what happens next in our mind. And that also allows different people to imagine what happens next in different ways, and I feel it’s really special when books are able to do that. If you’re a fan of Tommy Wallach and the way he writes his endings — such as in Thanks for the Trouble and We All Looked Up — then I’m sure you’ll fall in love with the way Nick Lake writes.
Whisper to Me is a novel that absolutely took my breath away. It’s powerful and touching, and it’s definitely a book that needs to be on everyone’s shelves. I can’t recommend it enough.
Have you had the chance to read Whisper to Me yet? Are you a fan of books that deal with the issue of mental health? Do you prefer perfectly closed endings, more open ones like Whisper to Me’s, or something in-between? Are you the type of person who likes character-driven or plot-driven stories more? Have you read any other novels with a unique writing style? I’d love to know!
Thanks to Bloomsbury Australia for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review!
Title: Whisper to Me
Publication date: June 1st, 2016
Australian RRP: $17.99