Thursday, June 12, 2014

Say What You Will by Cammie McGovern

How excited was I when a copy of Say What You Will landed in my mailbox?  Very excited, I'd say.  It would have been extremely excited except for the cool cover art didn't make it onto the ARC.  Just the same, I'd heard the comparisons to Rainbow Rowell's books that are so very popular right now and seen the cool cover art online, and I was very excited to crack the cover on this one.  So excited, in fact, it didn't even make it to the purgatory of the middling size pile of books I need to review, I just started reading it straight away during the Bout of Books.  Bottom line?  It was good, but I came away a bit disappointed.  Cue unpopular opinions of a dissident blogger! (There are some very light spoilers in the following review, so beware.)

Amy has cerebral palsy.  She can't walk without a walker, can't speak in a way that people can understand, and struggles to feed herself without making an embarrassing mess.  Despite appearances Amy is smart, has a knack for writing, and an optimism about her life that verges on the unbelievable.  Matthew has had classes with Amy since they were kids and one day he blurts out the truth, as he sees it, that Amy has no friends and the messages she's sending about her life aren't quite true.  Amy's encounter with Matthew changes her whole perspective and she decides that in order to be ready for college, it's time for her to make friends her own age, so for her senior year, her parents hire a flock of student aides to help her at school.  Matthew's hired to help Amy, but he's dealing with a disability of his own.  As the unlikely pair becomes friends, Amy realizes that she can help Matthew, too, and they both realize that they might want to be more than just friends.

Say What You Will is a quick read with a pair of different, interesting, and lovable characters.  For the first half of the book I was enchanted by Amy and Matthew's budding friendship and their slow realization that maybe they could have something more regardless of their respective disabilities.  Each challenges and helps the other to step outside of a life defined by disability, and it was touching to see them discover that when you love somebody, they become beautiful to you despite and sometimes even because of the failings of their bodies.  

After that, a strange thing happened: Amy couldn't stop her expectations from rising.  She imagined herself transformed and beautiful, like Molly Ringwald in Pretty in Pink, with her homemade dress and mysterious lace boots.  She pictured her hair in an upsweep of loose curls.  In the fantasy, her prom face looked like the one she only wore asleep, loose and relaxed.  She imagined a photographer asking her to smile and, for the first time in her life, being able to do it.  

I felt like I saw where McGovern was headed with her story and liked it, but then came the prom and the whole thing just started coming off the rails for me.  What started out as a pleasing slow steady climb of a story quickly took a sudden turn down a roller coaster hill.  After a build-up, prom is come and gone within only a chapter bringing with it all kinds of plot points that could have been dug into, but were instead quickly glossed over.  Characters started acting, well, out of a character, and what should have been a major plot event zipped by quickly, without the attention it seemed the warrant. 

And then, wow.  Then there's a plot twist that really came out of left field, and left me feeling pretty disappointed.  It's as if, instead of letting the book follow the good and natural progression that she'd started, the author decided that something major had to happen to keep readers turning pages, and that something turned a sweet romance on its head and sent it tumbling into after-school special territory. I wanted to love this book, and the beginning showed all the potential I'd hoped for, but the unnecessary theatrics caused me to disengage from the characters just enough that by the time the payoff came that I'd been waiting for through the whole book, there was no way it could deliver. 

(Thanks to HarperTeen for sending me a copy for review.)


  1. Maybe the comparisons to Rainbow Rowell set you up for disappointment.

  2. It could definitely be a victim of the "hype monster" for me. I don't know, I really *did* like the first half, but something about the latter half just rubbed me the wrong way.

  3. No wonder this book left you disappointed! I'll pass.