Saturday, July 16, 2011

Review: Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee

Title: Say the Word
Author: Jeannine Garsee
Publisher:  Bloomsbury USA Children's Books
Pages: 368
Release date: March 17th 2009
Genre: Contemporary YA
Source: Bought at The Book Depository
Find out more: Amazon ; Goodreads

Goodreads description:
The world expects perfection from seventeen-year-old Shawna Gallagher, and for the most part, that’s what they get. She dates the right boys, gets good grades, and follows her father’s every rule. But when her estranged lesbian mother dies, it’s more than perfect Shawna can take. Suddenly, anger from being abandoned ten years ago is resurfacing along with Shawna’s embarrassment over her mother’s other family. As she confronts family secrets and questions from the past, Shawna realizes there’s a difference between doing the perfect thing and doing the right thing.

First sentence:
When the phone slashes a machete through my brain at six fifteen a.m. it can mean only one of two things.

My rating: 2 out of 5 stars

This book just didn't work for me. I liked most of the ideas - they're pretty original, and I thought it would be interesting to read about a girl with a lesbian mom. A lot of interesting topics are mentioned - homosexuality/homophobia, domestic abuse, etc. - but I didn't like the execution, and I never really got the point.

My main problem are the characters. I didn't get Shawna at all. She has no real personality, always changing. First she's so ignorant and narrow-minded about her mother's homosexuality, then she's defending her mom, Fran (her mom's lover), and her gay friend LeeLee. If that showed her character growth or something like that, it would have been great - but she just switches between the two. She can never settle on anything else, either. That made it impossible for me to understand or relate to her.

Most of the secondary characters are like that, too, not having any real personalities and never deciding on anything. All of them go from happy to furious in a second. If that were a trait to describe one character, fine, but since all of them are like that, it's just annoying. None of the characters have anything that makes them unique or interesting. So many of them are incredibly narrow-minded and rude, and don't care about anyone but themselves. Can't we at least have one empathetic character?  I can only speak from my own experience, but the people at Shawna's school and Shawna's family are too rude and ignorant to be realistic. I was especially disappointed by Shawna's father's character. He's the "bad guy" most of the time but a normal dad at others. The reader never finds out anything about his motivations. The only character I sort of liked is Schmule, but he's unrealistic at times, too.

I didn't get the relationships between the characters, either. Not between Shawna and her dad, whom she hates sometimes but does anything to please at others; not between Shawna and Schmule, who seems like he can talk to Shawna sometimes but shuts her out most of the time; and not between Shawna and Arye. Their  romance happens way too quickly - first they hate each other, and then they're making out in his car. It doesn't even seem like the way they treat each other changes much, except for the physical aspect.

While I enjoyed the basic ideas of this book, I couldn't really enjoy the plot, either. Maybe that's because of the strange length of chapters - Say the Word has somewhere between 110 and 120 chapters. Some of them aren't even a page long, while others are almost ten pages. That made the pacing very strange - at times, it's so fast I didn't get what's going on, at others it's slow and nothing happens. The choppy writing had me confused throughout the book.

***This next paragraph contains spoiler-ish information.***
The ending is strange as well. There is no resolution for Shawna's problems with her father, and I didn't get why Shawna shouldn't continue a relationship with Fran, Arye and Schmule. What annoys me most is that Shawna goes to med school instead of art school. The whole novel deals with Shawna finding the courage to be herself and stand up to her father, but then she ends up doing what he wants her to instead of following her dreams. I have no idea what kind of message that is supposed to send.I'm just realizing this now, but what kind of a title is Say the Word? What word? I have no idea what it's supposed to mean, or what it's got to do with the actual novel.

Say the Word has some nice ideas, but I had lots of problems with the execution. Choppy writing and flat, narrow-minded characters made it hard for me to enjoy this novel.


  1. It's nice to read an honest mainly negative review that still gives plenty of detail and includes some positives. I read a lot of reviews lately, and some really do fall short of explaining what the reviewer saw as the problems with the novel.

  2. I don't think I've seen this book around much, but yeah, not picking it up. Thanks for the heads up. Lol. But yeah, I like the review. Somehow you seem to get all the points across. That's cool.


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