Now on the receiving end of harassment she once used to condone, Chelsea's silence leaves her with limited options for response. "I want to scream," she thinks, "but I can't.... I made a promise to myself. Talking is what led to this mess in the first place. If I hadn't said anything, no one would have found out Noah is gay, Warren and Joey wouldn't have beat him unconscious. If I hadn't said anything to the cops they wouldn't have been expelled and arrested, and I'd still have all my friends." (p. 45)
Handing notes to her teacher that state she's decided to take a vow of silence, Chelsea must now face the consequences of not talking. One teacher sends her to detention every day for non-participation, while another teacher gives her a small whiteboard she can carry with her for when she needs to communicate. Her parents are worried, but decide to let her take her stance. She cannot defend herself against the accusations of her peers, but her silence forms a different kind of strength, a kind of passive-resistance to a world in which much of the harm is caused by words.
"This monk guy," she thinks as she contemplates her decision, "his silence is used to better himself. My silence about Noah --- it's the opposite. It's because I'm a coward." (p. 33)
Despite the fact that Chelsea enters into her silence out of desperation and despair, it gradually becomes a refuge and a source of power. Not talking allows her to observe. People say things around her as though she is deaf as well as mute. Most treat her like she's invisible, but the few that notice her take interest out of kindness and curiosity. Her grades improve. And her silence allows her reflection on the direction her life's taken and the person she wants to be.
My favorite thing about Speechless is the way Chelsea's life starts to blossom after she takes her vow. New friends, a new job, and even a new love interest are all positive consequences of her choice, as is her commitment not to tolerate the bullying of others. What starts as a desperate attempt to wrest control over herself and her circumstances ends up being a commitment to herself and to a new way of life. As Noah tells her when she finally asks forgiveness for her actions, which landed him in the hospital, "Hate is... it's too easy... Love takes courage." (p. 239)
Sarah A. Wood, reviewer for teenreads.com and kidsreads.com since 2003, is a lifetime reader and writer. She refuses to accept that there are people who don't like to read and stubbornly believes this is only because they have not met the right book yet.
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