Harlequin/Mira Ink, 2013
[New release: 1st February 2013]
Until now. Because the last secret she shared turned her into a social outcast—and nearly got someone killed.
Now Chelsea has taken a vow of silence—to learn to keep her mouth shut, and to stop hurting anyone else. And if she thinks keeping secrets is hard, not speaking up when she’s ignored, ridiculed and even attacked is worse.
But there’s strength in silence, and in the new friends who are, shockingly, coming her way—people she never noticed before; a boy she might even fall for. If only her new friends can forgive what she’s done. If only she can forgive herself.
Speechless was one of those books that I pretty much devoured before I'd even realised what was happening. This came as something of a surprise, not least because the first few pages of the book convinced me solidly of one thing: Chelsea is not a nice person. She and her best friend Kristen trade gossip - and not just mild, inconsequential gossip, but mean, hurtful snippets of gossip about people they claim to be friends with - and come up with a stupid little blackmail plot largely for their own amusement. Chelsea seems a little in awe of Kristen, eager to please and agree with everything she says, but at the same time she seems more than happy to revel in her role as gossip queen and secret sharer. The following scenes did little to enamour me any further towards Chelsea. Their big New Year's party turns into a hideous mess as soon as Chelsea stumbles upon a scenario that provides such a great bit of gossip she spills it without any thought of the consequences.
Except there are consequences, and in the aftermath Chelsea takes a vow of silence after deciding that her mouth has only ever got her into trouble. It was interesting how Chelsea evolved during the course of book, from a selfish desire to get her friends back to realising that maybe they weren't the kind of friends she should have in the first place. Her developing friendships with Asha, Sam, Dexter, Lou and even Andy were portrayed really well, and I liked how Harrington focused on a positive female friendship as well as introducing a romantic relationship for Chelsea too. The romantic relationship came across as genuine and really well-written, I thought - in contrast to Chelsea's infatuation with one of the popular guys at the beginning (in which it was very much tell-don't-show), this relationship came through in much more subtle ways. Chelsea's obsession with watching him cook was funny, but it also rang true.
I also loved how Speechless didn't go down some of the more predictable routes I was expecting in my mind. (For most of the book I was convinced that there was going to be some awkward love triangle or that Chelsea was going to do something to screw everything up.)
Despite starting out disliking Chelsea quite intently, by the end of the book I had completely changed my opinion of her, and I think the exploration of who was to blame was interesting - I liked that there was always the reminder that what Chelsea did was wrong, but what other people did was a lot worse. It was a little bit depressing to recognise so much of the negative behaviour in the book as the kind of thing that could quite easily have happened when I was at school (which is more than a decade ago now), but it was good to see it being dealt with, even if (as Andy says at one point) it takes a straight white girl to act as saviour.
Ultimately Speechless didn't feel like an examination of a particular issue so much as an exploration of friendship and owning your own actions, and I'd recommend it as one of the better young adult contemporaries I've read in a while!
Overall rating: 8/10
Book source: Netgalley.