Things You Can’t Say – by Jenn Bishop

  Things You Can’t Say – by Jenn Bishop, Aladdin (a division of Simon & Schuster), 9781534440975, 2020 

Rating: 1-5 (5 is an excellent or a Starred review) 4

Format: Hardcover

Genre: Realistic fiction

What did you like about the book?  Twelve-year-old Drew, a sensitive and responsible guy, is looking forward to another summer as a volunteer in his public library (mom’s a librarian there), helping Mrs. Eisenberg with puppet shows and the summer reading program. Maybe hanging out and going to the country fair with best friend Filipe. But things don’t go according to plan and Drew’s a kid who values routine as he’s still grieving for his dad, who killed himself when Drew was just 9. First Audrey, a new kid in town, shows up to volunteer alongside Drew, but she doesn’t even like kids! Filipe has gotten more sporty and suddenly has an older and cooler friend. Last straw: an old friend of Mom’s named Phil shows up on a motorcycle to stay for a few days. Drew gets it in his head that Mom might be smitten with Phil and then begins to worry that Phil may be his actual father. Even worse, Drew starts thinking that might not be so bad. Because then, maybe he wouldn’t have to be afraid of inheriting the same depression that led to his father’s death. Audrey becomes an ally and uses interlibrary loan and a high school yearbook to get some answers. 

Drew and his family (mom and little brother Xan) are loving and well-fleshed out as characters and the pace of the book is just right. Nothing out of the ordinary happens; no crazy mystery to solve or slapstick moments. I liked that the whole book revolved around Drew’s feelings and how mixed they were. He tries hard to solve problems on his own, but comes to realize there are others who can and want to help him.

Anything you didn’t like about it? It had a strong bibliotherapy current. Fortunately, there were some light-hearted scenes to balance the tone, but I’d be interested to see how a young reader would rate it. It seemed more like a book adults would enjoy.

To whom would you recommend this book?  Middle school readers who enjoy realistic fiction. A good read alike might be Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson, which I found really sad but seemed popular with kids.

Who should buy this book? Middle school and public libraries

Where would you shelve it? Fiction

Should we (librarians/readers) put this on the top of our “to read” piles? If you’re looking for a middle grade novel that explores suicide and the long shadow it casts, this would be a solid choice.

Reviewer: Susan Harari, Keefe Library, Boston Latin School, Boston, MA

Date of review: May 16, 2020

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