Words We Don't Say
Words We Don't Say
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Annotation: High school junior Joel Higgins grapples with the aftermath of a tragic loss as he tries to make sense of the problems he sees all around him with the help of banned books, Winnie-the-Pooh, a field of asparagus, and many pairs of socks.
Catalog Number: #170963
Format: Publisher's Hardcover
All Formats: Search
Copyright Date: 2018
Edition Date: 2018
Pages: 274 pages
Availability: Available
ISBN: 1-368-01633-2
ISBN 13: 978-1-368-01633-9
Dewey: Fic
LCCN: 2017060799
Dimensions: 22 cm.
Language: English
ALA Booklist
Terminally broken Joel Higgins is barely getting by at school and serving community-service hours for punching a classmate. At least he gets to spend time with Eli, the pretty girl who also works at the soup kitchen, not out of obligation but because of a genuine wish to help others. Nevertheless, no amount of penance is enough for Joel to absolve himself of his secret shame 'd abandoned Andy, his best friend, on the eve of his death because it was too painful to see him wither away from cancer. It will take unlikely friendships and the recognition of his own courage for Joel to find redemption. Told in fractured vignettes that slowly converge to an emotional conclusion, Joel's story explores themes of death, mental illness, and the effects of trauma on ordinary people l without settling on definitive answers for why good people must sometimes suffer. Every character feels flawed and real, as do their struggles to find hope amid the horrors in the world. Reilly's book offers readers a work of profound truth that will linger long after a reader finishes the final page.
Kirkus Reviews
After the death of a friend, a teenage boy struggles to move on and open himself up to others in this debut novel.High school junior Joel Higgins volunteers at a soup kitchen every Wednesday, in part to fulfill his community service requirement and in part to spend time with Eli, the girl he's loved since seventh grade. Unlike Joel, Eli believes in God—and also that she can fix anything if she tries hard enough. Instead of telling Eli or anyone else about his feelings, Joel writes—but doesn't send—text messages on his phone to Eli; his best friend, Andy, who died of leukemia last year; and their school's principal. Through his messages, Joel declares his love and struggles for solutions to the problems that weigh on him. When he meets Rooster, a homeless veteran with PTSD, Joel's obsession with helping him leads him down an irreversible path of progressively greater challenges. Written in first person interspersed with a series of text messages, Joel's distinctive voice gives personality to the narration. Reilly delves into themes of poverty, mental illness, religion, censorship, and safe spaces. More than once, while holding a gun, Joel contemplates death. Despite the tough topics, the resolution leaves room for hope and growth. Main characters are white, and the book follows a white default.A high-interest read for its exploration of complex topics without simple answers. (Fiction. 14-17)
Publishers Weekly
In a debut filled with heart and wit, Reilly draws a memorable portrait of a teen struggling with big problems beyond his control. High school junior Joel is grieving over a loss when he signs up to work at a soup kitchen to fulfill a community service requirement. He is joined by his crush, enthusiastic do-gooder Eli, and new student Benj, an outcast rumored to have poisoned both his parents. With their disparate personalities, the three make an odd, comical trio when they meet Wednesday nights to feed the homeless, but they have two things in common: all are touched by the circumstances of the people they serve, and they become more aware of global issues through the banned books they-re reading for English class. If he can-t save the world, Joel is bent on helping one person, but assisting a homeless veteran suffering from PTSD proves to be a more dangerous endeavor than he imagined. Written in a first-person narrative and as a series of texts Joel composes but never sends, this novel traces with remarkable sensitivity how a vulnerable adolescent becomes less absorbed in his own suffering as he reaches out to others. Ages 12-up. Agent: Molly O-Neill, Waxman Leavell Literary. (Oct.)
School Library Journal
Gr 8 Up While completing a semester-long community service project at a local soup kitchen, Joel encounters a variety of homeless clients, including a homeless veteran struggling with PTSD, whose interactions with Joel lead to some potentially devastating consequences. To help him deal with his depression, Joel's guidance counselor has suggested that he keep a journal; instead, he composes hundreds of unsent text messages to his crush, Eli; best friend Andy; and the school principal. Many characters deal with profound grief and devastating loss, which is explored honestly and unflinchingly. All of the teen characters have distinct and authentic voices. Joel's relationship with his family, especially his father, is complicated, but believable and even heartwarming at times. A teacher's attitude about "trigger warnings" and "safe spaces" could be a springboard for further discussion. Contemporary issues such as PTSD, homeless veterans, and banned books are woven throughout, but never in an overly obvious or preachy manner. Although the grief felt by various characters will never fully diminish, there is growth and hope for better days at the end. VERDICT Recommended for readers who enjoy thoughtful realistic novels that cover difficult topics. Jennifer Schultz Angoli, Fauquier County Public Library, Warrenton, VA
Reviewing Agencies: - Find Other Reviewed Titles
ALA Booklist (12/1/18)
Bulletin of the Center for Children's Books
Kirkus Reviews
Publishers Weekly
School Library Journal (10/1/18)
Word Count: 59,464
Reading Level: 6.1
Interest Level: 7-12
Accelerated Reader: reading level: 6.1 / points: 10.0 / quiz: 510625 / grade: Upper Grades
Guided Reading Level: M

Joel Higgins has 901 unsent text messages saved on his phone.
Ever since the thing that happened, there are certain people he hasn't been able to talk to in person. Sure, he shows up at school, does his mandatory volunteer hours at the soup kitchen, and spends pretty much every moment thinking about Eli, the most amazing girl in the world. But that doesn't mean hes keeping it together, or even that he has any friends.
So instead of hanging out with people in real life, he drafts text messages. But he never presses send.
As dismal as sophomore year was for Joel, he doesn't see how junior year will be any better. For starters, Eli doesnt know how he feels about her, his best friend Andys gone, and he basically bombed the SATs. But as Joel spends more time at the soup kitchen with Eli and Benj, the new kid whose mouth seems to be unconnected to his brain, he forms bonds with the people they serve thereincluding a veteran they call Roosterand begins to understand that the world is bigger than his own pain.
In this dazzling, hilarious, and heartbreaking debut, Joel grapples with the aftermath of a tragic loss as he tries to make sense of the problems hes sees all around him with the help of banned books, Winnie-the-Pooh, a field of asparagus, and many pairs of socks.

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