I am a fan of young adult stories – but not straight romances. Especially not YA romance which is generally too much angst and drama and not enough story. Iris St. Clair makes me a liar with her phenomenal book Louder than Words.
I’ll admit I picked up the book because it was at a special release day price, and the author is in a writing critique group I recently joined. The blurb piqued my interest because it sounded like some non-romance young adult novels I’ve read and enjoyed.
Here’s the blurb from Amazon:
“Disappointment has been on speed dial in Ellen Grayson’s life lately. Her dad died, her mom numbs the grief with drugs and alcohol, and her so-called friends have slowly abandoned her.
Trusting a popular teacher with her troubles should have been safe and should NOT have led to an unwelcome seduction attempt that made her desperate to escape the final moments of Junior year. Lesson learned. Best to keep all the sordid details to herself and trust no one.
Enter Rex Jacobi, a cocky boy, recently transplanted from New York City and fellow summer camp employee. Though his quick wit and confidence draws her in, she can’t let him get too close. And summer is just long enough and hot enough to keep a boy like that at arm’s length.
But by the time Rex’s charm wears down her resistance, it’s too late. He’s put Ellen on the “just friends” shelf and has shifted his romantic attentions to the impossibly annoying and perky anti-Ellen. Even worse, the teacher who tried to get her to sleep with him is still at it, preying on other girls while Ellen struggles to come to terms with what happened.
With her ability to trust as shaky as a chastity vow on prom night, Ellen must decide if she has enough remaining courage to speak up about the well-liked teacher and risk retribution, tell Rex how she really feels about him and risk heartbreak, or hold all her secrets inside. After all, it’s the only safe place she knows when the only thing louder than words is the fear of being rejected.”
So, I open the book expecting this to be in the vein of Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. And the opening scene keeps that illusion alive (see paragraph one, two and five from the blurb). But after chapter three there’s nothing more about the groping teacher.
Sure a small scene where he practically threatens her at a restaurant, but the story is obviously “just” a romance. It’s about her pushing away Rex and then regretting it. Attempting to settle for friendship with him when her heart and mind are calling her all sorts of hypocrite. Ho-hum.
About halfway through, things change when the teacher re-enters the picture. And, yes, it does broach the same subject as Speak and does it in a way that is so non-confrontational that any teenage girl who read it would think, “I could do that.” Whereas, the trauma value to Speak’s heroine holds some kids who consider themselves “normal” at arm’s length.
I tip my hat to St. Clair for dealing with sensitive subject matter with finesse. It’s not just the definition of “what is a consensual relationship” that she addresses. Nope, there’s a list of volatile topics:
- How do we approach a child we suspect is being abused?
- How can we be a friend to someone who’s lost a parent? Or whose parent is a drug addict?
- When is withholding the truth a sign of friendship? And, conversely, when should the truth push us from our comfort zone?
- Why do teenagers consider bullying the norm? Why are so many willing to be bystanders rather than take a stand?
Each of these questions finds an answer in the midst of this not-just-a-romance story. St. Clair handles them with tact and without ever hinting at being preachy or judgmental.
Upon finishing the last page, I had to sit down and review this book because the magnitude of the accomplishment astounded me. From something marketed as a “young adult romance,” a spotlight falls on important subjects many teenagers face (or wonder about).
I laughed. I teared up. Most of all, I believed Ellen could truly exist in this world. And I wanted to meet her because I felt like she is someone I’d want to befriend. Just a regular girl with standard problems who faced them with the bravery of an Amazon warrior.
Yes, this “romance” gets five stars from me because it is so much more than “just” a love story.
My favorite romantic line from the book: “The tingles have formed throbbing gangs who have sprayed suggestive graffiti all over my private property.” Now, that sounds exactly like something a teenager would think – and is totally sexy while being amazingly appropriate in the same instant.
If you have a daughter who likes romance, get her this book. Read it so you can have some important discussions with her about some of the subject matter subtly confronted in between teenage angst and drama. It is worth every penny and every minute. I promise.