Review: Everything I've Never Said
Sometimes, I delay reading a book not because the cover doesn’t grab me (it did). Not because I was scared of drowning in an emotional whirlpool (I wasn’t, well perhaps a bit). I often dislike the distracting hype surrounding a new release. I like to wait until the book calls to me on its own and in this case, Ava finally called loud enough for me to hear. Which is saying something, for Ava is unable to speak.
I’m glad I waited to take on Everything I’ve Never Said for it is truly something special.
Told without froth and bubble, and very little hand waving, this novel possesses a greatness of heart that will make you weep and chuckle out loud. Ava is sassy and sharp as a whip. She has the observational skills of a bald eagle and the heart of a whale. Opinions and thoughts, words and desires bubble within her without restraint, yet she is unable to express any of them thanks to Rett syndrome, which dominates her physical abilities. Her greatest desire is to be heard. But how can she manage that in a family struggling to cope with not only her disability but a new and unexpected tragedy, as well?
Samantha Wheeler’s familiar, clean and uncomplicated narrative allows Ava’s story to unfold one crease at a time, revealing her humorous side, her gapping vulnerabilities and her gutsy determination. Written in punchy first person, it allows readers the privilege of knowing how Ava feels and thinks sometimes before she even does, before frustrations boil over into screaming sessions and uncontrollable lashing out.
It’s incredibly wrenching to witness such a spirited being trapped by the limitations of her condition and the conventions of everyone else’s ‘normal’ lives. Yet Wheeler’s doses of reality are never heavy handed nor mawkish. In fact, thanks to Ava’s sometimes wicked sense of humour, we not only emphasise with her dilemmas, we learn to accept them for what they are and instead of bemoaning her condition, crave, as she does, for a way to manage it better.
Ava is kind, strong and loving. Her family mirror these characteristics and want the very best for her yet are trapped in their own kind of condition through exhaustion, bewilderment, and an unawareness that defeats their best intentions. It’s not until Ava's encounters with switched on OT, Kieran and fellow special needs friend, Amiee that light bulbs of hope start pinging. And, it’s Ava who is turning them on.
It’s impossible to know the head-bashing frustrations girls with Rett Syndrome and their families have to endure let alone imagine how they navigate the ambiguities of the government systems designed to help them but in reality do little but hinder. Wheeler wipes away some of that incomprehension because as a parent with a Rett Syndrome afflicted child, she does know. Rather than choking the novel with cloying fact though, this experience instead elevates it to a place of wonderment.
Everything I’ve Never Said, is funny and powerful, compelling and heart filling. I am glad I finally stopped to listen to Ava.
Title: Everything I’ve Never Said
Author: Samantha Wheeler
Publisher: UQP, $16.95
Publication Date: 1 October 2018
For ages: 10 - 14
Type: Middle Grade Fiction
Buy the Book: BoomerangBooks, UQP