Summary: Things You Can’t Say
Things You Can’t Say was my first time reading author Jenn Bishop. After his father dies by suicide, Drew tries to move forward with life by volunteering at the library where his mom works. The kids love him for his zombie story time sessions and because he’s a generally responsible boy. He helps his mom watch his little brother, Xander and helps cook dinner — he even mows the lawn.
But this summer, three years after his father’s death, a new girl, Audrey starts volunteering at the library too. She’s good with computers and he’s worried she’ll steal his shine — and that’s not even the worst part of his summer. A new man, Phil seems to have ridden into his mother’s life and Drew isn’t sure what’s up between them. Somehow he begins to think that Phil might be his father. On top of that his friendship with his oldest and best friend, Felipe is in danger when Felipe starts hanging out with an older eighth-grader named Theo.
Oh man, I loved this book more than I thought was possible. Drew’s voice had my attention from the first sentence and the author’s characterization skills are obvious in the other characters as well. Everyone feels fully formed — like real people in your everyday life. Drew’s mom who’s trying to move on from losing her brilliant husband by suicide, his cheeky little brother who wins your heart in every scene, and even sweet, intense, opera-loving, Audrey. I loved everyone.
Although it tackles serious subjects like a parent taking his life, a child having to temporarily become the “man of the house” and a boy who’s confused about whether his dad was really his dad, Things You Can’t Say is not a sad book. Everything is handled with sensitivity and a large helping of humor. The author addresses the shame or otherness kids may feel when they lose someone to suicide. She also highlights how the impact of such a loss can linger for years — affecting friendships and self-esteem.
Finally, I loved the touch of mystery in this one as Drew tries to figure out Phil’s backstory. All the sleuthing scenes with Audrey will make any mystery lover happy. There’s also a lot of food in this book: waffles, pasta, slushes, and more. Come prepared to salivate.
Overall: Things You Can’t Say
In case you couldn’t tell, I adored this book! It’s one of those books I quickly realized would be a struggle to review because all I want to do is gush and put this book in everyone’s hands. Another book with such a memorable protagonist and also about death and grief is The Remarkable Journey of Coyote Sunrise which I also adored. Things You Can’t Say is a thoughtful, realistic, and heartwarming (oh, so heartwarming) book about dealing with a parent’s suicide and changing friendships. If you’re looking for a book that emphasizes vulnerability in boy friendships, highlights cute sibling dynamics or set largely in a library, you’ll love this book!
Buy This Book
Have you read this book or anything by Jenn Bishop? She writes sports books so well! I just bought her other novel, The Distance to Home. What are your favorite middle-grade books about grief? I’d love to know! You can read my interview with Jenn Bishop about her newest book, Where We Used to Roam.