SAY WHAT YOU WILL
by Cammie McGovernHardcover: 352 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen (June 3, 2014)
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John Green's The Fault in Our Stars meets Rainbow Rowell's Eleanor & Park in this beautifully written, incredibly honest, and emotionally poignant novel. Cammie McGovern's insightful young adult debut is a heartfelt and heartbreaking story about how we can all feel lost until we find someone who loves us because of our faults, not in spite of them.
Born with cerebral palsy, Amy can't walk without a walker, talk without a voice box, or even fully control her facial expressions. Plagued by obsessive-compulsive disorder, Matthew is consumed with repeated thoughts, neurotic rituals, and crippling fear. Both in desperate need of someone to help them reach out to the world, Amy and Matthew are more alike than either ever realized.
When Amy decides to hire student aides to help her in her senior year at Coral Hills High School, these two teens are thrust into each other's lives. As they begin to spend time with each other, what started as a blossoming friendship eventually grows into something neither expected.
Amy has cerebral palsy. Matthew has obsessive-compulsive disorder. They come together when Amy convinces her overprotective mother to hire students to walk her between classes during her senior year of high school. They've been going to the same school for years but their newfound unconventional relationship brings to light everything they have in common.
I really admire Cammie McGovern for giving life to two complex characters and opening up a discussion about their issues. She doesn't make the characters fit a perfect version of the story. Matthew is fully awared that his thoughts are irrational but his fear is real. Amy doesn't have full control of her body and she uses a computer to communicate. There's no sugarcoating or romanticizing in sight. All of their problems are presented in a very raw manner and I applaud McGovern for it.
I think when a debut novel is marketed as The Fault in Our Stars meets Eleanor & Park, you might be setting up the bar a little bit too high. As a fan of both of these books, I was slightly underwhelmed by Say What You Will. The story is told in third person, with alternating points of views. I tend to have a difficult time connecting to characters when the story is told in the third person and that happened with this one. I still cared about them but I wasn't too invested in the story. However, the story itself was definitely thought-provoking and very intriguing. The characters are solid and work around their disabilities and issues in a very realistic way. At the end of the day, you don't get a girl with cerebral palsy and a boy with OCD. You get Amy and Matthew: two teenagers growing up and finding their place in this world.
I was on board for the majority of the novel. However, it completely lost me about 2/3 of the way in. Something big happens at that point and it kind of ruined the story for me. I don't know how to talk about it without talking about it but I can tell you this: I felt like that turn of events was very strange. I felt like I had an understanding of the characters and their personalities but all of that was thrown out the window without warning. Another issue that I had with this novel is that I suffer from anxiety and Matthew's point of view made me feel really anxious. His point of view contains a lot of repetitive thoughts (he has counting rituals and he's always panicking about everything/everyone around him) that are very difficult to read without feeling really anxious and panicky yourself. This alone says great things about McGovern's writing but I had a hard time getting through some of this novel because of it.
Say What You Will is a very touching story about two teenagers who are not defined by their disabilities. The love story is secondary to their individual triumphs and defeats. You can expect a shock or two (good or bad depending on your taste) in this unforgettable story. While you shouldn't expect this one to be the best book you read this year, Say What You Will is a well-written novel about growing up and overcoming your fears.