Keary Taylor’s “What I Didn’t Say” turned out to be a decent read for me overall, though it’s very much a simple teen chick-lit novel that follows in some genre clichés and has some distracting elements that affected my reading experience of it.
The premise is an interesting one: following a car accident, Jake has a significant throat injury that causes him to lose his voice. Life after the accident proves no easy adjustment, and Jake has many regrets, including not telling the girl he loves how he feels about her. In the initial stages after his accident, he goes through various stages of grief, but realizes that his family and the people around his community are willing to help him recuperate, including Sam, his love interest. Sam seems to have her own share of problems and isn’t willing to open up about them at first, but the more that Jake gets to know her, the closer they become, and soon Jake realizes that Sam has a tragic circumstance of her own.
I felt the real story began when Jake was in the accident and comes to the realization that he’ll never speak again. His grief is palpable for the most part, though I think some odd stretches were taken with his assumptions of living with his disability. For instance, I didn’t like the fact the book communicated that Jake could no longer take Spanish because he couldn’t “speak” it – it felt very heavy handed and wasn’t accurate in its blunt assumption. I also didn’t like how the school made an example of Jake’s disability with the assembly against drunk driving and signing the pledge – it felt manipulative and it was clear that Jake regretted drinking and driving in his actions that night. Still, I was able to swallow those qualms and move forward with the story.
Sam is a girl whom he relates with and helps him along in the healing process by teaching him to communicate in ASL. The two grow closer and as Jake yearns to tell her how he feels, he learns that she’s keeping a major secret of her own, which explains her condition as perceived by other students at the school. The two have their share of ups and downs with Sam’s living conditions, and the novel does pace itself well between a number of obstacles facing the couple. I think the interactions between Sam and Jake are what make the story stand out as well as it does. I could’ve done without the continual food analogies, the slut shaming (Norah the Whora), among other odd elements that peppered the description/depiction here, though – because it didn’t endear me in the way they were used. Nonetheless, the overarching conflicts are genuine, and the resulting interactions and relationship built upon between Sam and Jake are that which I liked watching through the novel in its best moments. It ties up a little neater than I expected, but reflecting on the novel as a whole, despite places where it didn’t click with me for faults, I did like watching the evolving central relationship and Jake coping with his disability in spurts.
Overall score: 3/5
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, self-published by the author.