The Nerds Heart YA Tournament, exists to promote the very best of Young Adult literature, specifically those under the radar books that don’t quite get the same exposure as the big hitters. I have the honour of picking the first book to make it though to the final!
Seventeen-year-old Shawna has never forgiven her mother for leaving her and her dad for another woman, Fran, when she was only seven, and hasn’t spoken to her since she was fourteen.
Only now her mother has suffered a fatal stroke, and Fran and her two sons are suddenly thrown back into her life. All this happens as Shawna prepares to finish high school and is making decisions about college and the rest of her life.
Despite the fact she has never felt anything for Fran and her two sons, when her father starts to take control of what happens next, she knows it’s not right, and feels bad for them.
Shawna doesn’t always cope with this mix of events and conflicting emotions very well, especially when combined with the typical life of a high-school senior, including one particular boy.
When after her mother’s sexuality again makes the gossip and nasty whisper network at the school, she just can’t cope with the insinuation she might be gay herself (she isn’t). It isn’t right, and in a perfect world, she shouldn’t care, shouldn’t be embarrassed, but life isn’t perfect and peer approval being more important than it should be, means she takes the taunts as the insults they are intended to be. Shawna isn’t really homophobic, but her experiences so far, especially the way her mother left all those years ago, have done nothing to help her react differently.
Despite all this, Shawna is a really easy character to sympathise with. She is nothing but an honest narrator, even when she is doing and saying this she knows are wrong. To see her deal with all the crap and fight her way though her own prejudices, is a wonderful experience.
It’s not really others in her life, her best friend LeeLee (who is in a lesbian relationship and can’t talk to Shawna about it, due to her date of mind, Fran and her family or long-buried secrets that start to unravel, that effect the slow change in her, but her reaction to those events. She, both unconsciously and consciously makes the changes necessary.
Despite her many issues, there is an innate strength of character that makes her really likable. Say the Word, can be a brutally honest and raw book at times but it’s also a heartwarming tale of having the strength to do the right thing.
This isn’t a book I’d have picked up outside of this tournament; a perception that it would just be a girly teen book, (really not helped by a back cover blurb that doesn’t do the depth of the story justice) would have kept it off my radar. Which would have been a real shame, as it is a really great read, and fully deserving of its semi-final place.
Did I enjoy it more than In Mike we Trust though? Well you’ll just have to come back in a few hours to find out!
Buy: Say the Word by Jeannine Garsee from The Book Depository