This was a little gem of a book. I wasn't sure at first how much I was going to like it. It trod similar ground to several ya novels I have read in the past. Formerly popular bitchy girl on the outs with the popular crowd - check. Girl has to find new friends because the old ones no longer want anything to do with her - check. Former friends launch a campaign to make said girl's life miserable - check. Girl meets boy who sees through all the walls that she has thrown up around herself and likes her for who she is - check. Formerly bitchy girl learns life lesson due to her new outcast status - check. However, although many of the themes were familiar, Hannah Harrington has taken these well-used tropes and made a truly moving, inspirational story that sucked me in and didn't let go until the final page.
Speechless is told from the perspective of a young high school girl called Chelsea Knot. Chelsea is a renowned gossip - she literally cannot keep anything a secret and relishes in her status as the best friend of the most popular girl at her school. However, at a New Year's Eve party, she stumbles onto a secret and when she blurts out what she has witnessed to her friends, she indirectly sets of a chain of events which results in a young boy from her school being seriously beaten and hospitalized.
Once she realizes what she has done, Chelsea finds the guilt she feels overwhelming. She cannot allow the perpetrators to get away with what they have done. She reports the incident to the police, in the process losing all her friends from the in-crowd as the two boys responsible were two very popular jocks, and one of them happened to be her best friend's boyfriend. Even though she does the right thing, Chelsea still feels a terrible shame for her part in what has happened and so she takes a vow of silence in an attempt to atone for the mistakes she has made.
Practically overnight, Chelsea becomes a social pariah as one by one all her friends begin turning on her. However, Chelsea finds solace in an unlikely source. She is paired together in art class with Sam, best friend of Noah. At first Chelsea thinks Sam must despise her for what happened to his friend but Sam is nice to her and doesn't seem to hold her accountable. She also becomes close with another friend of Noah's - a young freshman called Asha - whose sunny disposition and zest for life helps Chelsea cope with the changes in her life. Even Andy, a boy who has every reason to hate her, eventually comes around to the fact that Chelsea is genuinely sorry for her part in what happened and they end up becoming sort-of friends. She gets a job at the cafe where her new close-knit group of friends work and some of the best scenes take place here, with this group of adorable misfits.
Chelsea was a wonderful detailed and realistic character. Full of flaws but strong enough to realize them and change herself for the better. She started off pretty unlikeable but as her vow forces her to look inwards, at how she has acted and treated people, she shows massive character growth. I couldn't help but root for her throughout. Hanging around with her new friends, Chelsea begins to appreciate the goodness in people. Her relationship with these oddball characters, especially her burgeoning romance with Sam, shows her that there is more to life than gossip, drinking and parties. Sam, Asha and Andy were all endearing characters and I just loved every moment devoted to them and their varying relationships with Chelsea.
Overall this was a fantastic story of a young girl's road to self-discovery. The characters were fantastic and although the story could have become cliche-ridden, it never once fell into that trap at all. after reading this, I can definitely say I am a big fan of Hannah Harrington - will need to move swiftly onto Saving June!