Speechless: A Story of Redemption without Actually Redeeming the Character

“I’m so sorry…There’s no excuse.”

                                                                 “No…There’s not. It was a shitty thing to do.”

Chelsea Knott lives in the shadow of her best friend’s popularity. Her desire for attention and the need to feed her craving for social entertainment drives Chelsea to be the gossip queen. It’s all fun and games until Chelsea reveals she’s caught Noah Beckett making out with another boy, unbeknownst that her actions would get him beaten nearly to death by the football jocks. Now, a guilt-ridden Chelsea takes on a vow of silence as she becomes the new victim of school bullying. While getting a bitter taste of her own medicine, Chelsea must seek forgiveness from the ones she’s wronged and learn to forgive herself. Hannah Harrington’s Speechless tackles the issues of bullying, redemption, and the power of language; all are provocative issues with potential to create a powerful and moral story. However, Chelsea is only able to tell her story at the expense of another commendable character and her failure to reach expectations diminishes her worth as the protagonist. Chelsea disappointingly struggles to make significant contribution to the theme of the story and becomes a faltering and lacking heroine as justice isn’t quite redeemed as much as the character believes it to be.

            “I thought it was okay as long as I didn’t actively participate, that it was enough for me to secretly believe in my heart of hearts that there was absolutely nothing wrong with being gay even if I never dared to say it out loud.”

Chelsea claims to have no problems with homosexuals but the story doesn’t exactly serve them justice either. All focus is on Chelsea although her suffering at school is not nearly as critical or comparable to the torture Noah experienced. While she faces graffiti lockers and crude comments, Noah is unconscious and hanging onto dear life. The story touches on the subject of gay bullying, a highly relevant and controversial issue in our current society, but never fully addresses it. Noah and the gay society are unnecessarily dispensed as a sacrificial lamb to spark Chelsea’s story and then disregarded to make way for her less imperative issues. The story offers some compensation to Noah but nothing justifies victimizing the entire gay community. Gay bullying is not the same as when Chelsea gossiped about the girl who wore white jeans during her period, but yet the story treats Noah’s issue as if there’s no difference in magnitude. Noah’s tragic incident could have delivered a powerful message regarding gay bullying. Unfortunately, it was only an insignificant ‘aha moment’ to trigger Chelsea’s goodness before being pushed into the backdrop.

            “Hate is easy, but love takes courage.”

This is the moral of the story, the answer to bullying, and the gateway to acceptance. It’s an impressive quote that fails to reach its full potential because the protagonist struggles to demonstrate it. Speechless is a story of redemption, but rather than having Chelsea work for forgiveness, she is redeemed when she learns why her victims love and accept her and how she can do the same. Unfortunately, I feel the moral better fits Noah. He was the one who faced prejudice and was wrongly persecuted; his coming to terms with the theme would be more meaningful and appropriate. Many argue that Noah is Chelsea’s auxiliary character whose role is to shine the light of truth for her; if that is the case, then I wish Chelsea did more with her light than just step into it. As the protagonist, Chelsea fails to demonstrate the meaning of the moral. Chelsea too easily accepts forgiveness from her victims while not doing the same for her own bullies. Despite the few glimpses of Chelsea’s humanity, there aren’t enough self-realizations to prove her worth as the main character. Her simple excuses pardon her mistakes and stunt her growth. Sadly, Chelsea struggles to fully develop into an insightful  person and her character is left hanging on the border.

          “But it’s a distant kind of sad– like when you look at your Barbies and realize you don’t want to play with them anymore, because you’re growing up and you’ve moved on, and in your heart you know it’s time to make room for other things.”

Nevertheless, I highly praise Harrington’s exquisite job with the prose.  Her elegant diction constructs a beautiful, comforting, and inviting world of love that grabs the reader by both hands, pulls them in, and offers them a warm plate of brownies. The reader roots for Chelsea as she slowly learns the difference between a fleeting crush and the security of true love. Life, love, and friendship blossom as she grasps onto the truly important things in life. Just as powerfully, Harrington creates a terrible world of prejudice and abuse. Like Chelsea, the reader is speechless at the debasing and inhumane situations the bullied face. Harrington truly recreates high school at its worst and at its best and puts Chelsea, her victim, and the reader at the center of everything for a full experience. Chelsea’s friends and family, the reader included, witness her growth as her world expands beyond that of pink, glitter, and Barbies.

             “At least I acknowledge the mistakes I’ve made, and am making. At least I’m trying. That means something, doesn’t it?”

I give Harrington’s Speechless 3.75/5 stars. Plot wise, the rising conflicts are easy to follow. It is predictable but I don’t ask for much from a YA novel as long as I’m entertained.  Harrington’s writing is witty and clever, especially when Chelsea communicates during her mute stage. The language is a good balance between sophistication and pubescent gossip/brawl. I mark it down because thematically, the story overlooked some major societal issues and the moral could have a stronger delivery. I do wish Chelsea made me believe she was redeemed and deserved forgiveness as much as she thought she did. In my opinion, ‘trying’ is an excuse and ‘almost’ doesn’t count.

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