Adam P. Schmitt
Published on November 6, 2018
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As if being stuffed into last year’s dress pants at his cousin’s wake weren’t uncomfortable enough, thirteen-year-old Jimmy has just learned from his mother that he has to say a few words at the funeral the next day. Why him? What could he possibly say about his cousin, who ruined everything they did? He can’t recall one birthday party, family gathering, or school event with Patrick that didn’t result in injury or destruction.
As Jimmy attempts to navigate the odd social norms of the wake, he draws on humor, heartfelt concern, and a good deal of angst while racking his brain and his memory for a decent and meaningful memory to share. But it’s not until faced with a microphone that the realization finally hits him: it’s not the words that are spoken that matter the most, but those that are truly heard.
I found Speechless to be one of those unexpected books. Instead of being this soft, sweet look at grief, it has this very frank, unapologetic look at some of the uglier stuff that a family goes through in a bad situation like this. Jimmy didn’t have a good relationship with his cousin Patrick. In fact, he can’t remember a single time Patrick did something admirable or noble. But there’s no way his parents will let him out of giving a speech, so Jimmy sifts back through his memories desperately looking for something he can share which will help his grieving family.
As he looks back, he notices some big dysfunctional patterns, which really doesn’t help him in terms of finding something positive to say. It really only makes him more resentful and full of dread about having to speak.
But as Jimmy’s memories and lessons learned come together, he realizes some important truths. And while the truth may not be pretty, he finds a way to share it that opens a door for healing within his family.
I enjoyed the frank way Jimmy relates his memories and the fact that he doesn’t give up on figuring out what to say, even though speaking is the last thing he wants to do, and he feels like it really isn’t fair. It’s not easy to convey a family with issues as openly as Schmitt does and still preserve the sense of family, especially through a young narrator. I definitely feel like it’s a good read for later elementary-aged readers or anyone who’s been through a complex family loss.
Major characters are not physically described.
Profanity/Crude Language Content
Some references to swearing. At one point, the narrator cuts off mid-swear.
References to attending mass on Easter and Christmas as well as during a wake and funeral. Jimmy tries to pray but feels awkward and worries that he’s not doing it right. He doesn’t seem to have any deep faith or deep understanding of church rituals.
Some instances of an adult physically harming a child. Some descriptions of a child bullying or attacking others.
Adults drink alcohol at a party. One gets very drunk and behaves violently. Jimmy recalls him drinking a lot at other times, too. Lots of people seem upset by the behavior but no one really tries to stop him or confront him.
Note: I received a free copy of this book in exchange for my honest review.